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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform