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London’s literary theatre and the Barbican’s architecture

A theatre seating around 400 and a housing estate with ten times that number of residents offer unique cultural experiences in London.


The end of History” by Thorne, , Writer – Jack Thorne, Director – John Tiffany, Designer – Grace Smart, Lighting – Jack Knowles, The Royal Court Theatre, 2019, Credit: Johan Persson. Photo provided by Royal Court Theatre.

Sean Sheehan


The Royal Court Theatre has a  history harking back to the end of the nineteenth century, though the grand red-brick building that now stands in Sloane Square was built in the late 1990s.

The Royal Court, known as ‘the writer’s theatre’, is justly famous for its showcasing of new writing from emerging playwrights. There are two theatre spaces, a downstairs one seating 350 on three levels while upstairs, on the fourth level, there is a studio space for an audience of about 80.

Jack Thorne’s new play, The end of History, is currently on downstairs. It takes its title from Fukuyama’s triumphalist claim that there is no longer a creditable alternative to liberal democracy and free-market capitalism. The play seems to endorse this dubious thesis with the family history of a left-wing couple whose children grow up in a world without their parents’ idealism.

The end of History” de Thorne, escritor Jack Thorne, Director  John Tiffany, Deseigner Grace Smart, Lighting Jack Knowles, The Royal Court Theatre, 2019, Credito: Johan Persson. Photo provided by Royal Court Theatre

The idea that society’s class contradictions are dead and burie  is hardly intellectually convincing; if there is going to be an end of history it is more likely to be in the form of Extinction Rebellion’s dire warnings. What impresses about The end of History is the quality of the acting and the way it manages transitions from 1997 to 2007 and then 2017.  David Morrissey and Lesley Sharp, both  television stars, play the parts of the parents with a brio that is a tour de force.

And to show just how experimental the Royal  Court can be, check out what is coming up there next: Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation.

The Barbican housing estate occupies a site of some 35 acres of land badly damaged by bombing in World War II. Building work did not get started until 1965 and lasted over a decade. An arts centre became part of the plan and the Barbican Centre, which didn’t open until 1982, includes a theatre, a concert hall, an art gallery, a public lending library and a restaurant.

The variety of artistic events at the Barbican Centre has made it London’s cultural treasure trove. And, until the end of August, what is also on offer are eye-opening architecture tours of the Barbican. The focus is on the history and design of the housing estate and it’s a fascinating tale that begins with a young team of architects, Chamberlin, Powell & Bon, being commissioned in 1954 to submit designs for the mostly empty site of the Barbican. It was an audacious undertaking and the renowned structural engineer Ove Arup was brought in as a consultant when the architects’ startlingly ambitious plans began to take shape.

Photo provided by the Barbican

The walking tour brings home the visionary zeal that lay behind one of the city’s most daring works of architecture. Most Londoners only know the Barbican Centre and recognise its three tower blocks from a distance but this tour allows you to experience and appreciate it close up.

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