The Barbican is a bizarre place. Probably about as bizarre as Stratford-upon-Avon but for very different reasons. I was here as a student at Guildhall seven years ago and there are currently a lot of comparisons going on in my head. The Barbican when I was a student; the Barbican now as an actor. The intimate, thrust, 400 seater Swan Theatre; the huge, proscenium arch 1,000 seater Barbican Theatre. The twee, picturesque town of Stratford with its gentle pace and sploshing swans; The brutalist concrete jungle of the Barbican set within the frantic financial district.
We have spent the last three weeks re-staging, re-teching and previewing Doctor Faustus and The Alchemist. It's been quite a feat for all the creative, technical and acting teams involved. It's just so much bigger. So many more candles for The Alchemist, so much longer to run around the back of the stage for the quick changes in Faustus. In Stratford as Lucifer I had a catwalk where I could scare the audience with my proximity as I thrust my crotch into their faces. Now I have a stadium.
Another challenge is the Barbican itself. We've all gotten lost at least once. I'd forgotten about the warrens of concrete, the depths of the rehearsal rooms, the lack of natural light, the feeling that it is the end of the world and we are the only survivors, waiting it out, preparing to create a new civilisation.
I'd forgotten about how cool it is here. The Ragnar Kjartansson exhibition was sensational, I went and watched the harmonising hairy guitarists lounging by their empty beer bottles on my lunch break 3 times. The copper sideways stairways into the theatre are an immersive piece of art all by themselves. The auditorium from the stage is all red and gold and stunning geometric patterns, and the doors CLOSING ALL AT THE SAME TIME at the start of the show is just wicked.
This move to the Barbican is discombobulating and crazily exciting. The designs suit this bigger space, people are giving some amazing, brave, funny, detailed performances. The posters are in every tube station. You can eat off Siobhan, Ken, Mark, Ollie and Sandy's faces in the Barbican canteen as their production images are printed on the trays.
Today is the press night of The Alchemist, last night we had the press night of Doctor Faustus. I have just cycled past my student flat off Hoxton square (which cost me £350 a month at the time) weaving through the magnitude of city bankers stepping off the pavement without looking, into the familiar shadow of these enormous grey towers. It is the hottest September day seen for years. A load of us sit by the Barbican Lakeside and eat our overpriced Pret suppers we longed for in Stratford but are now irritated by due to our dependence on them. I marvel at how much we still like hanging out with each other. We have hung out for hours by the water in Stratford. Now we are doing just the same by this man made water feature.
Stratford-upon-Avon and the Barbican. Two of the weirdest and most wonderful places. They are both intense, oppressive at times, but ultimately inspiring. They are vacuum packs of art and culture and feelings and ideas and nothing really feels better than getting sucked right into them.