Architecture: The in and out club

When Julian Assange addressed his public from a balcony, he chose a platform employed to effect by popes, politicans and pop stars

He drew back a net curtain and stepped on to the balcony to be greeted by applause and cheers, as if he had already performed. Perhaps we should give Julian Assange the benefit of the doubt. Where else could he have spoken from the small embassy to which he has confined himself?

A badly lit video message would have made him look guilty, a written statement would have been boring, a speech on the doorstep would have earned him a police escort to Sweden, where he faces questioning over sex assault claims, which he denies.

The balcony scene suited his script perfectly: elevated; detached; commanding; and protected behind ornate balustrading and the cloak of Ecuador's flag.

With it, Assange realised the dramatic potential of an architectural feature that has been a stage for romance, tragedy, triumph and odd behaviour.

Since the time of the Romans and before, balconies have played host to speeches and exhortations. They are not only elevated but stand neither within nor without the buildings from which their occupants emerge. You can look up at the Pope or Kate Middleton, you can get tantalisingly close, but, like the police at the embassy, you can't touch them.

Assange, who criticised the US for its "witchhunt" for whistleblowers while failing to mention the reason for his Ecuadorian asylum (those pesky assault allegations), was evidently channeling Eva Peró*, the Argentinian First Lady played by Madonna in Evita. Political balcony scenes have also featured Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan leader.

But, as The Independent observed yesterday, the other – less glorious – Assange script left him inviting ridicule rather than awe. There were the physical comparisons to John Inman ("I'm not free," he might have said) while, in the balcony context, the scene owed more to Monty Python's Life of Brian than Evita ("'E's not the Messiah! 'E's a very naughty boy!") or perhaps the most bizarre of balcony scenes – the 2002 Michael Jackson baby-dangle.

Juliet balconies, which barely protrude enough to support a sun lounger, have leant cosmetic prestige to British building facades since the late Georgian period (one imagines, the embassy balcony needed to be swept before Assange's appearance).

They are, of course, named after her from that play, and the most famous balcony scene of all (which was in fact only a window scene in Shakespeare's text). Tom Scutt, a theatre designer, realised its importance as he conceived the set for a modern imagining of Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2010 , in which Juliet wore a blue dress and Converse boots.

"The balcony scene is a huge, iconic, almost religious moment," says Scutt, 28, from the set of King Lear, which opens next week at London's Almeida Theatre. "There's something about the simple gesture of elevating a person and the frame of a balcony that automatically creates icons out of anyone who has that attention placed on them. It makes a human figure appear larger, like going to the V&A and looking up at a statue."

There have been darker balcony scenes, of course. Ecuador's embassy is unlikely to become as infamous as Iran's, site of the 1980 siege, or the Olympic Village in 1972, when balaclava-clad kidnappers of the Israeli team peered over the balcony during what became known as the Munich Massacre.

Whatever their motives, balconists must be worthy of the elevation they afford themselves. As Scutt says: "There is the potential for it to be quite condescending, if you're rising above the masses in a patronising way."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935