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Barbican Firsts: 1980s

Friday 3 March 2017

On 3 March 1982, the Barbican Centre opened its doors for the first time.

To celebrate our 35th anniversary, we’ve looked back through the archives and uncovered 35 Firsts from our boundary-pushing heritage over the last three and a half decades.

First up, we look through the 1980s.

Explore our online scrapbook:


Share your Barbican Firsts with us on Twitter @barbicancentre #barbican35

#1) 3 March 1982: Barbican Centre opens
First arts centre in the world to have music, theatre, visual arts, film and a tropical conservatory all under one roof opens.
In the first Barbican brochure, or Diary, as it was then called, we announced our opening celebrations, five days of events including a visit from Her Majesty The Queen. Our opening celebrations also included performances from the Royal Shakespeare Company and London Symphony Orchestra as they settled into their new home venues. Upstairs in the Art Gallery, we presented Aftermath: France 1945–54, New Images of Man. The first public concert in the Barbican Hall was a gala performance presented by BBC Radio 2, Friday Night is Music Night.
#2) 9 June 1982 : RSC: Henry IV Parts I and II
First production in the Barbican Theatre – and world premiere of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Henry IV Parts I & II, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Patrick Stewart.
#3) 9–30 November 1984: Woody Allen Retrospective
First comprehensive retrospective of Woody Allen films in Britain
‘Britain’s first ever comprehensive retrospective of the films of America’s comic genius Woody Allen – from What’s New Pussycat? To Broadway Danny Rose. This extensive three week season included all the films directed by Woody Allen plus those in which he has been a writer and an actor.’ From Barbican brochure, 1984
#4) 14 February–8 April 1985: Munch and the Workers
First time 114 Edvard Munch works are shown in the UK.
‘This exhibition covered the last third of his life when he favoured working on huge formats and big frescoes, producing large and powerful pictures on predominately agricultural themes. Amongst these works were the ‘worker’ friezes for the Freia Chocolate Factory in Oslo and his ‘workers’ project for Oslo City Hall. These paintings were never installed and formed the nucleus of this exhibition. The exhibition, organised by Newcastle-upon-Tyne Polytechnic Art Gallery, comprised 114 works from Oslo, none of which has been previously exhibited in this country. Admission: Adults £1.50; children, students, OAP’s, registered disabled, unemployed 75p.’ From Barbican brochure, 1985
#5) 8 October 1985: RSC/Cameron Mackintosh: Les Misérables
First ever performance of the RSC's Les Misérables
The musical adaptation of a 19th Century novel by Victor Hugo opened to bad reviews. Now in its 32nd year, Les Misérables is currently the world's longest running musical, and has played to more than 65 million people in 42 countries and 22 languages.
#6) November 1985: TSB Bank Lunchbox Concerts with the London Symphony Orchestra
First venue to combine Kit Kats, scotch eggs and the London Symphony Orchestra
In November 1985 the Barbican launched Lunchbox Concerts, allowing audiences to listen to the LSO whilst dining on a double sandwich, scotch egg, Kit Kat, piece of fruit and a carton of juice… A balanced diet of food and music.
#7) 27 November 1985–26 January 1986: Toki: Tradition in Japan Today
First and largest-ever festival of Japanese culture in the UK
‘Prince Charles and Princess Diana opened Britain's largest-ever festival of Japanese culture. During their hour-long visit to the Barbican, Charles and Diana watched a display by puppeteers. Prince Charles, 37, said he and the princess could not have hoped for a better insight into the world of Japanese culture than ''this breathtaking exhibition.'' Charles and Diana were presented with a mechanical doll that serves tea, a replica of one on exhibit, and two albums of Japanese art. The festival, called 'Toki: Tradition in Japan Today,' is an exhibition of contemporary painting, puppetry, calligraphy, carved ivory, pottery, sculpture, gardens, photographs of Tokyo life and two seasons of Japanese films.’
#8) 2 January 1986: RSC: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
First London performance of the RSC’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the play opened at The Other Place in Stratford-upon-Avon on 24 September 1985. On 8 January 1986, the production transferred to The Pit with its original cast intact, including Alan Rickman as Vicomte de Valmont, Lindsay Duncan as the Marquise de Merteuil and Lesley Manville as Cecile de Volanges. The play won the Evening Standard Award for Best Play and the Olivier Award for Best New Play.
#9) 12 December 1989: Candide
First time Leonard Bernstein conducts his operetta with the LSO
Leonard Bernstein and the London Symphony Orchestra perform the world premiere of Candide’s Final Revised Version at the Barbican on 12 December 1989. These were his own final wishes on the piece, which had gone through various incarnations since it premiered on Broadway in 1956