From its inception in the 1950s, the imposing, brutalist form of the Southbank Centre has provoked reactions about as visceral as a building can muster. Designed with utopian post-war architectural ideals, it was seen as a place to bring the classical arts to the people, a high-point in a new, optimistic Britain. Either that, or it was a concrete carbuncle messing up the Southbank, which, to be honest, wasn’t very nice to begin with.
Concrete Dreams is a short-running guided tour through the newly remodelled Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, a rare, probably never-to-be-repeated chance to have a nosy at the bits of the building usually reserved for stars such as David Bowie and Allen Ginsberg.
The Southbank Centre has carved out a funny little niche with its guided tours, with recent examples including reconstructions of scenes from The Moomins and an immersive ABBA exhibition, both of which used suspiciously similar props.
This one starts off as an architecture tour, with a guide talking about the intricate processes of making the ubiquitous concrete from wooden casts, and showing off some architectural drawings. Then it segues into a small museum, with posters of former acts and index cards and tidbits of audio and video, all displayed in a series of wood-panelled, rust-carpeted dressing rooms.
Then, just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, you’re led onto the Purcell Room stage, where a surreal mash-up of former acts plays on two gauze screens while a dancer cavorts on the seats in front of you. It’s all totally mad, but worth seeing nonetheless, especially as it will all be off limits again in three weeks’ time.