The Shed: experimental theatre 02.08.13

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"There was never a brief for the Shed – just a conversation," says Paddy Dillon, associate director at Haworth Tompkins. He is talking about the bright red timber structure that is currently clinging to the north facade of the National Theatre on the South Bank. The temporary building opened in April and will run a programme of experimental theatre until February 2014. "The process was less like putting together a building, more like designing a show. You can do things in a temporary building that you wouldn't risk in a permanent one," Dillon says.

Occupying Theatre Square at the front of Lasdun's opinion-dividing béton brut building, the 225-seat auditorium is constructed with a steel frame and plywood, and the exterior is clad in rough-sawn timber. Its massing and grain relate to the severe forms of the tiered balconies of the original theatre adjoining it. The four towers that sit at each corner might be seen as a nod to the ruins of Battersea Power Station further up the river, but they also serve a practical purpose. The Shed lacks any mechanical ventilation, so the towers create a stack effect, allowing fresh air to be drawn into the windowless space. Inside, the Shed is a simple black box with tiered seating arranged around a cleared space in the middle. A balcony allows the audience above to sit in the round, and the undercroft allows the lighting and sound system to be hung.The Shed is nothing fancy; it's a colourful dot on the grey tiers of the National Theatre that will provide a space for performances while the Cottesloe auditorium, the smallest of the National's three theatres, is being renovated.

The strength of the Shed lies in its simplicity. The creative directors of the National Theatre have put together a series of shows that will test its directors and actors in an intimate and sparse setting, as well as tempting new audiences that may not be familiar with its usual programme. Tickets will sell for between £12 and £20.

"Building projects happen in such ponderous ways," says Steve Tompkins, director of Haworth Tompkins. The Shed is also, to some extent, acting as a billboard to let the public know that the National Theatre is changing. Haworth Tompkins has been working on the project for six years. "The whole project is about making the building physically and culturally more porous," Tompkins explains.

 

Image

Hélène Binet

 

Words

Owen Pritchard

quotes story

The process was less like putting together a building, more like designing a show. You can do things in a temporary building that you wouldn't risk in a permanent one

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