The Shed is a dramatic example of thinking outside the box

The National has opened a brand new theatre. Now it wants new audiences to match

"There are all sorts of things you don't even think about when you start building a theatre from scratch", says Ben Power, looking critically at some red neon lights above the bar. "I think these are probably the wrong way round", he adds, to no one in particular.

We are standing amid the paint fumes and drill dust of the National Theatre's new baby. If you have walked down London's South Bank in the past month, or even been near Waterloo Bridge, you can't have missed it. A bright red building with four chimneys, it has landed in the theatre's grey forecourt like a big, mischievous block of Lego. Its look was apparently inspired by Amish barns and (zeitgeist alert) Scandinavian farm buildings but it most resembles a giant's shed. So it is called The Shed. And over the next nine months it will play host to inventions and experiments from Rufus Norris, Nick Payne, the teams behind War Horse and Constellations and myriad up-and-coming theatre-makers.

Opening tonight, The Shed is a temporary replacement for the Cottesloe, the National's third space, which closed for renovation in February in the first phase of the theatre's £70m redevelopment. It will reopen as the Dorfman (in honour of the Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman, who has donated £10m to the refit) this time next year. "Going dark" in the meantime was a never an option – especially not with the Cottesloe on such a high after The Effect, The Curious Incident… and This House. They could have hired a theatre and shipped out shows to the West End for a year, but then they realised that it would cost the same to build a temporary theatre instead. How much might that be? £1.8m – entirely taken care of, apparently, by profits from War Horse's run on Broadway.

For Power, 31, an associate director at the National, formerly of Headlong, and now in charge of programming at The Shed, it is a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to build a new theatre, and a new rep, to order. The 230-seat space is designed by Haworth Tompkins, architects of the wider NT Future project, and recalls their stripped-back work at the Young Vic and the Royal Court. Their brief here was to be temporary, cheap and sustainable. The building is made of 100 per cent recyclable timber and raw steel. The chimneys allow it to heat and cool itself efficiently. The seats and lights are borrowed from the Cottesloe and there are no wings, no backstage and just one tiny dressing room with bare bulbs and plywood walls. "I have a fantasy that all of the performers who come in will scratch their name on the wall, and at the end it will be covered," says Power.

While plugged into the powerhouse of the National, sharing its facilities and talent, every effort has been made to make The Shed feel like its own theatre. It has its own entrance, its own trendily scruffy bar, its own pricing (tickets will be £12 or £20, programmes £1) and, it is hoped, its own audience. The National has been trying to seduce a younger crowd for some time – most successfully with cheap Travelex tickets but also with a season of new writing staged in its set-painting warehouse last year, and late-night summer bar, Propstore. The Shed is its most concerted effort yet to tempt audiences from London's more experimental arts spaces.

"There are people who go to see new writing Upstairs at the Royal Court or at the Arcola, or who go to the Young Vic for its bar", says Power. "And they don't come to the National because they think it's establishment and not for them or they find the building intimidating or the programming old-fashioned or over- literate. Actually that audience would really enjoy what we do. This is a way of reaching towards that."

The Shed will be a space to experiment, giving new ideas and artists a platform at the heart of the theatre establishment, but away from the glare of the main house lights. One day, they might make it inside to the Lyttelton. Much of the work has its origins in the National Theatre Studio, including the opening show Table, a multi-generational family epic directed by Rufus Norris. In the autumn, debbie tucker green, a Royal Court stalwart, will make her NT debut with Nut and Tim Price will unveil his play about the Occupy movement. At Christmas, Power will team up with Marianne Elliott and others from the War Horse team on Elephantom, a family show, and in 2014 Nick Payne (Constellations) will tackle gender relations in a new play directed by Carrie Cracknell. Newer talents will also get mini-runs at the venue. Some, like Scottish theatre maker Rob Drummond and American experimentalists The TEAM, were spotted by Power at last year's Edinburgh Festival. Other fringe favourites, like Little Bulb, will take part in a mini-festival in September.

Then in February the red slats will be torn down, the seats and lights refitted in the Dorfman and all that will be left of The Shed will be a plywood dressing room wall covered in signatures. "And that's good", says Power. "What's important is that it happens and that the energy then flows back into the bloodstream of the theatre."

The Shed opens tonight with 'Table' (020 7452 3244; theshedtheatre.co.uk)

Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
    Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

    Escape from Everest base camp

    Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
    Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

    What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

    Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
    Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

    Gossip girl comes of age

    Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
    Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

    Goat cuisine

    It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
    14 best coat hooks

    Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

    Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?