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The Barbican Theatre is set within the Arts Centre of the Barbican Centre which also contains a concert hall, art gallery, library, restaurants and cafes. In 1965 Peter Hall, the then director of the RSC, worked in close collaboration with the architects, Chamberlin Powell and Bon, to design the 1150 seat auditorium and large stage. It was built in 1970-82.

Ingeniously designed, the circles and balcony curve back towards the stage one over the other. The effect of this is to bring the whole audience a lot closer to the stage and the lack of a permanent orchestra pit brings the front seats right to the front. A further ingenious design is the fact that each seat row has its own individual door, eliminating the need for aisles and bringing the audience together as a unified mass. Before the show and during intervals the doors are held open by electromagnets before closing automatically when show time arrives. The first public performance at the theatre was on 9th June 1982, several years after the opening of the National Theatre's Olivier auditorium despite being planned some years before.

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