The news that the Barbican Centre has shown a record turn-over (see http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/newsstory.php/10126) for the last year, with box office receipts topping £8m in an increase of more than a quarter from the previous year’s take, must be heartening news indeed for MD John Tusa and artistic director Graham Sheffield, whose bold programming has been transforming the centre into a destination attraction in its own right, and I don’t mean the long-standing joke of actually being able to find it anymore.
What they have shown is that, in order to compete in such a vibrant artistic marketplace as London is with so many rival attractions competing for attention, it pays dividends to offer something unique that no one else does: and with BITE they have proved not to have bitten off more than they can chew, but have actually given the centre a theatrical identity in its own right and not just as the one-time London home to the RSC.
BITE, of course, began as an artistic response originally to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of the RSC from the Barbican Theatre for six months of the year, which led later to then-artistic director Adrian Noble’s total withdrawal of the company from the centre (but infamously without setting up a London home for them to actually go to, thus precipitating possibly the company’s largest-ever crisis that it is only now starting to recover from). And even if the RSC fell out of love with the centre, other companies have now become only too happy to make their homes there, with both Cheek by Jowl re-establishing themselves there (after a period of hibernation) and Michael Clark as resident artists.
The current Young Genius season, in association with the Young Vic, has also proved that it is possible to reconfigure the Barbican Theatre for the interesting new shapes and intimacies demanded by some of today’s theatre makers, from Robert Lepage who launched the season to the Icelandic company Vesturport whose Woyzeck is just ending its acclaimed run tonight.
All of this is being accomplished in the midst of the £12.25m foyer and public space refurbishments that promise to make the centre a much more inviting place to visit, but are currently making it even more horrible than usual!
But while the Corporation of London, who own, fund and manage the centre, have funded the refurbishment scheme, their funding of the centre overall is being gradually diminished, with a drop of £1.6m projected over the next two years from last year’s £17.8m, and a further drop of £1.9m by 2008/9, as the centre is expected to generate more of its own operating income.