The dark powers of Barbie and Ken

For some reason, my mental image of the Barbican Centre is of a very ugly building. Looming walls. A labyrinth of car parks and underground roads. Blistering orange walls. Dark corridors leading to nowhere other than the deepest recesses of my psyche.

These are the thoughts that follow me as I make my way there, stumbling between the tower blocks as I try to latch my gaze onto anything that looks vaguely familiar and failing miserably.

I don't know what it is about the Barbican, but I manage to get lost every time I go there. 

I swear the powers that be, possibly the suits at the City of London, have everything rearranged between each of my visits. 

Roads that I was sure took me directly there only a few months ago now twist off at odd angels, depositing me in unfamiliar alleyways.  

The only other explanation that makes any sense is that the Centre itself is actually a cover for some scientific experiment happening deep underground, the overblown architecture acting as a conduit to unseen forces, bending the laws of physics as you approach, turning you about and sending your inbuilt sense of direction haywire like a compass placed on a magnet.

I suppose what I'm saying is, there's something about Moorgate. 

Eventually though, if you persevere, the forces at work beneath our feet tire of their game and let you stumble onto the street that will lead you, against all evidence to the contrary, to the exact entrance you need, and suddenly the Barbican will be the most beautiful building you have ever seen in your life.

And it is. 

Yes, the walls do rather loom so. And yes, it is a labyrinth. And yes, that shade of orange has serious retina-damaging potential. But somehow, it all works.  

The massive foyer spaces provide a sense of safety after navigating the Escher-like arrangement of staircases. The towering walls cast long shadows that soften that searing orange.


With the unobtrusive lighting, it can almost be... romantic. 

Unfortunately, my date with Simon Stone's Medea was off to a bad start. 

"That's four pounds," said the usher selling programmes out in the foyer. 

I reached into my bag and felt around for the soft leather of my purse. 

Nothing. I reached in deeper, stabbing the back of my hand on a spoke worked loose from my umbrella.

Still nothing. 

"Sorry. Big bag," I apologised, still rummaging. My bag is big, but my fingers were scraping the bottom and I still hadn't found my purse. 

It had to be there somewhere. I'd used it that morning to buy an English Muffin from the cafe... at... Sadler's.

Shit. I'd left it on my desk. At work.

"Shit. I've left my purse on my desk at work."

The usher pouted sympathetically. But there was nothing she could do. 

Damn damn damn. 

I found a quiet corner and did a proper rummage, just to double check. And nope. It definitely wasn't there. 


With more hope than expectation, I checked my emergency cash supply. Three pounds. Not enough. Not enough.

Feeling like an addict desperate for her next fix, I emptied my bag out on a convenient ledge. I had to have a pound floating around in there somewhere. 

Cough sweets. Eleven of them. Quite the collection. I counted them out in a row along the ledge.

But no coins. Not even a crummy five pence piece. 

I looked around. Could I ask someone for some spare change? No. I definitely couldn't do that. But perhaps I could swap something? How much was my umbrella with the sticky-out spoke worth? It still worked. I'd pay a quid for it.

But the rain had stopped. No one would want a vicious umbrella anymore tonight. 

I repacked my bag and went in. 

Once inside the theatre, my brain can't even pretend to think the Barbican is ugly anymore. Wide seats spread out in endless rows across the massive space, their leather armrests, each pinned with large metallic seat numbers. Hundreds of lights picking out the Deco-flavoured decorations. And the doors... Oh, the Barbican doors. Those magical, eerie, mechanical doors. I'm surprised they don't have their own Twitter feed. If the Southbank Centre's singing lift can have one, I don't know why the Barbican doors cannot.


For those who have been inducted into the wonder of the Barbican Theatre doors, let me do my best to explain the fascination I have for them.

Each individual row in the theatre has two twin doors - one at each end. Which means, in a theatre a large as this, there are a lot of fucking doors. Slim and tall, picking your way past them as you head down to your row feels like you are walking through an enchanted forest, and as you pass through, and the void of the auditorium opens up above you, it's like finding your way into a clearing, and you look up, blinking at the stars above.


And then, as the lights dim, the doors, in a coordinated manoeuvre, all slam shut as one. Sealing everyone inside behind the newly formed walls either side.

It's fucking brilliant. 

And utterly terrifying. 

But I was sitting in the middle of the row. Far away from the scary doors.

Thankfully my central viewpoint came with its own set of compensations.

Sat in front of a blazing spotlight to light up that wide, starkly white, stage, it didn't take long for my neighbours to notice that every time they stood up to allow someone to pass, their bodies would throw out huge shadows against the set.


They were not going to let that golden opportunity go to waste.

They started small, waving at their giant doppelgangers. 

Then came the classic bunny ears.  

Next they attempted some complicated hand arrangement that I think was supposed to be some form of an animal, but they couldn't get it quite right. 

Up ahead, someone stood up to stretch, blocking the light, and their fun.

It was good practice. Fun was very much not on the cards that night. The production was in Dutch. With surtitles. Plus the whole Medea thing.

Gripping, yes. 

Thrilling, yes. 

Really rather emotionally draining, most definitely. 

But fun? No.  

Am hour and a half later I staggered out, clutching my coat closed over my chest. 

That had been a lot. 

I needed to get out of there. But the forces that lurk beneath the Barbican had been busy, and had picked up the building as we'd been watching the play, turning it ninety degrees and setting it down a full three streets further away from Moorgate station than before. 

Tricksy bastards. 

But, giving myself fully over to them, I let them lead me around until the station came into view from behind some hoarding, as if it had always been there. 

Oh, and as to my purse and lack of programme. I'm pleased to report there's a happy ending to this tale. I swung by the office on my way home, and after sheepishly admitting to stage door what I'd done, my purse and I were reunited. And as for the programme. My friend Helen is watching Medea as I type this. Before the doors slammed, she sent me this...