UPDATED: 24 August regarding cancellation of upcoming Tube Strikes.
It may have been announced over a year ago in March 2014, but we’ve finally reached the week of the beginning of previews for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at the Barbican in London. Whether you agree with the hype or not, this is certainly the most anticipated production of the year, with tickets selling out within hours of public booking opening last August (although 30 tickets will be available daily at £10). As a fan of Mr Cumberbatch’s work for a number of years (my thoughts on his defining roles are here), I’m very much looking forward to seeing his Hamlet and have high hopes (despite non of my fantasy cast making the final actual cast for the show).
As a London resident and a regular theatregoer I’ve been to the Barbican a few times now, but remember how confused I was initially, when trying to find my way around its many levels. I therefore thought I’d try and think of some useful tips for anyone new to the Barbican, coming to see this production.
1. Getting there
Personally, I think the simplest way to the Barbican is from the Barbican underground station, from which you can catch the Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines. Exit the underground station, cross the main road in front of you and then head straight ahead, down the underpass road (Beech Street). At the end of the underpass section of road, you’ll see the Barbican cinema complex and COTE restaurant on your left hand side.
Cross the pedestrian crossing there on to the right hand side and then just walk down the short bit of Silk Street to the main entrance of the complex. It’s also only a 20 minute walk from Farringdon station and Moorgate is also nearby, but a little more confusing in my view then coming via Barbican. Visit the Transport For London (TFL) website for help planning your route here.
UPDATE: 24 August – New Tube Strikes Cancelled – Further tube strikes planned to take place between Tuesday 25th and Friday 28th August have now been called off!
I will leave the details below here in case any other strikes are scheduled during the Hamlet run.
If any future strikes do go ahead, check TFL for details of bus routes for your journey if necessary. Point to note – London buses do not accept cash, so you’ll need to have an oyster card with credit on it, or a contactless payment card. The link below is to a map, which shows the buses you can catch around the Barbican area.
The Thameslink train lines will be operating I think, so if you can get part of the way on that, walk to Farringdon station and catch it there. The Thameslink timetable / journey planner is at this link. Or book at cab to pick you up outside the Silk Street entrance of the Barbican. The Barbican have helpfully sent the following two images of walking maps, which I wanted to share:
The one above, designed by http://www.cargocollective.com, is a walking tube map, highlighting the length of time it takes on average to walk between the London underground stations (useful just for walking around even when tubes are running). The link below is (if it works) a link to the Barbican’s walking map, showing again distances to the Barbican from nearby areas.
Sherlock location tip – St Bart’s Hospital is on the other side of Smithfield Market, only about a 25 minute walk from the Barbican if you have a good amount of time beforehand to stop for a photo!
2. It’s a large complex, so leave yourself time to get there
The Barbican is not just a theatre, but a huge cultural centre comprising cinemas, concert hall, theatre and restaurants (as well as the residential flats) and therefore it’s a large building. I once read there were up to 100 ways out (although I imagine not all of those are public!). Due to its size, I’d recommend giving yourself plenty on time to get there and to find your way inside and to the theatre, especially if you also need to collect tickets. If you are unsure of the levels, check the floor plan lists by the lifts, which show where everything is located. I’d also add that certain lifts only go to certain floors so check the lift signage.
The theatre is located on Level -1 of the main building and I personally think the Silk Street main entrance is the easiest, as you then simply follow the flights of stairs down until you reach Level -1. Also, unlike the majority of productions, the evening performances of Hamlet start at 7:15 p.m.
3. If you are meeting people for the show, arrange a meeting place in advance in case phone signal is poor
Another quirk I find at the Barbican is phone reception. There have been times when seeing a concert or play, when I’ve had no signal on the lower ground level of the Barbican. Therefore, in case you hit a black spot, arrange a meeting place in advance, such as the Silk Street entrance or box office, to avoid being unable to call / text someone who has your ticket or for whom you have a ticket.
4. Box office collection
If you need to collect tickets, the box office is on the same level as the theatre itself, Level -1. You’ll also find the free cloakroom behind the box office, along the far wall as well, as well as toilets (the queue does tend to get very long) and a bar.
5. Seating plan
I posted this on twitter a while ago, but I thought I’d add it again here. The Barbican theatre is a very striking auditorium (the individual doors to the rows like a lecture theatre and its brilliant safety curtain are my highlights) and 2D seating plans don’t really give an authentic view of it. This image is much more useful for seeing where your seat is and is the one I always use when booking Barbican tickets.
I’ve also found this link, which shows images of the theatre itself for those interested in more of an insight, including this one.
6. Food & Drink
The Barbican is great for food and drink. The Foodhall on the Ground level has a huge variety of hot and cold food, with lots of seating and is ideal for a quick bite to eat pre-show if you haven’t opted for a reservation in one of the other restaurants in the complex. On a sunny day, you can also sit outside, by the water in the centre of the Barbican complex. Also, if you bought a membership, check how much discount you get on presenting it at the tills in the Foodhall.
If you want interval drinks, definitely order them in advance to save queuing. I can also recommend the cocktails in the Martini Bar on Level 1!
7. Phone charging
There are plug sockets dotted around the Barbican, mainly near seating areas, so if you need to charge your phone, keep your eyes open for them.
8. Stage Door
I thought it was worth highlighting again that the message over the last year has remained that there will be no stage door for Hamlet (or not for Benedict Cumberbatch anyway). I personally think this is a very wise decision due to the inevitable crowds it would have drawn. There’s a good chance that the other actors in the production will come and go through the stage door as usual, but if you’re hoping for a Cumberbatch autograph, you’ll have to wait for another time, as Benedict’s days of doing stage doors seem to be sadly in the past. He’s just too well known now for it not to be chaotic.
9. Hamlet itself
I imagine by now everyone has watched, read or looked up anything they are unsure of regarding the story of Hamlet itself. I’d simply say don’t let people who say Shakespeare is difficult scare you. It’s just not true. My first Hamlet was David Tennant’s in 2008 and it wasn’t difficult to understand at all, but very clear and engaging. I’m sure this production will be no different.
If you are still looking to watch anything before your visit, I’d always recommend the DVD of Mr Tennant’s Royal Shakespeare Company Hamlet. It’s not quite the same as the live theatre experience, but it is still the clearest version of the play I have seen and would give a good idea of the plots and relationships you’ll see unfolding in the Barbican’s production.
10. Barbican Tours
If you have time during your visit to build a backstage tour of the Barbican Theatre in to your trip, I’d certainly recommend them. The guides usually know a lot about the building and its history and by going backstage you get a greater insight in to the life of the theatre. Details of upcoming tour dates will be added to the Barbican website, so keep an eye on that for details.
If I think of anything else, I’ll update this post, but for now here’s the Barbican Hamlet website link, which should be able to cover most of your questions.
The first of my trips to see Hamlet is for the first performance on Wednesday! There’s something about going to first previews that I find exciting, so I’ll post my general initial thoughts on the production later on Wednesday night. I’ll not post anything that I think would spoil anyone’s enjoyment and of course, as there are two weeks of previews, there are bound to be tweaks to the production leading up to press night on 25th August.
All that’s left to say is I hope everyone enjoys the show and hopefully, like me in 2008, this production will start a love of theatre and Shakespeare for many others!