National Theatre to 'take risk' with The Shed's 'more experimental repertoire'

Director Nicholas Hytner today unveiled this year's NT programme with hotly anticipated shows including a four hour Eugene O’Neill play and The Light Princess

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As its smallest stage closes for refurbishment the National Theatre is gearing up to host a "more experimental repertoire" in a temporary wooden shed.

A bullet-catching magician and a play about the Occupy Movement will be among the dramas showcased at The Shed as the National celebrates its 50th birthday by undergoing a £70m overhaul.

Renovations at its Cottesloe Theatre start later this month, so while it remains shut a wooden structure in the space where outdoor performances normally take place will house the third stage.

Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of the National, said: “It will be a much fuller and more experimental repertoire that we have been able to do at the Cottesloe.” 

It will offer a range of works, some running for months and others just a few days. “It will be used in a much more freewheeling fashion,” Sir Nicholas said.

The venue has 225 seats and will charge £12 and £20 for tickets.

There will be new work interspersed with overseas productions. Ben Power, associate director responsible for programming at The Shed, said the ethos was “taking what we love about the Cottesloe and encouraging risk” adding it was a “real adventure. Some of it might work, some might not”.

The programme opens in April with a play called Table developed by Rufus Norris, who directed Damon Albarn’s opera Dr Dee at the English National Opera last year. Table follows six generations of one family and the role a particular piece of furniture plays in their lives.

It is followed by Bullet Catch, which arrives from the Traverse Theatre in Glasgow, a piece about a magician written and performed by Rob Drummond. Later in the year the stage will host a new play about the Occupy Movement by Olivier Award-nominated writer Tim Price and director Polly Findlay.

The temporary structure cost £1.8m and was paid for by the profits from War Horse’s run in New York.

The Cottesloe will reopen in April next year renamed the Dorfman in honour of the Travalex founder Lloyd Dorfman who donated £10m to the National and kick started the NT Future programme. Sir Nicholas hoped The Shed would also prove a positive development for the type of plays to be staged at the Dorfman.

Sir Nicholas announced the year’s programme for the National’s other stages yesterday, and said the highly anticipated Othello starring Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear goes into rehearsal next month.

The Olivier Theatre will stage Edward II, The Amen Corner by James Baldwin and directed by Rufus Norris, with King Lear directed by Sam Mendes and starring Simon Russell-Beale coming in January 2014.

Other notable productions this year include the troubled musical The Light Princess by Tori Amos. The show is an adaptation of the 1864 fairy tale by George MacDonald. It was first announced in 2011 and scheduled to open last April, but was postponed.

The National will also put on Eugene O’Neill’s heavyweight Strange Interlude, the first time at the theatre for over three decades. While some productions have run to five and a half hours, Sir Nicholas said this version would probably be cut to a little under four hours. The play will star Anne-Marie Duff and Charles Edwards.

Sir Nicholas is also planning an event to mark the 50th anniversary in October, with a “celebration” of the company’s history.

The Society of London Theatre released figures showing ticket sales were up in 2012, which surprised some in the year of the Olympics. Sir Nicholas was not one of those surprised. “I was never in the gloom and doom party.”

He has been an advocate of support for regional theatre, and after another strong year in London, he added that theatres in the capital had an obligation to support their regional counterparts “where we can”.

Sir Nicholas has been outspoken in his criticism of the Government’s arts policy and once again called for the cuts to end. “It has been a consistent part of the case made that the more you put in, the more you get out the other end,” he said.

“I still don’t see how on one hand the acceptance that public investment in the arts is an engine of growth, I don’t see how you can accept that and not accept the argument that it is therefore worth thinking about maintaining the current level of funding.”

He added: “You’ve heard it before but I’m not going to stop saying it.”