The National Theatre have unveiled The Shed, their new temporary venue on the south bank to host new and visiting work into 2014. Built in partnership with Neptune Investment Management and in consultation with NT Associates, the building has been described somewhat bizarrely by project architect Paddy Dillon as like “Amish barns for which a community will come together for a weekend, saw joints, peg frames, and raise a whole building out of nothing.” Others have alluded to shades of the workhouse, albeit in fauvist red, or a primitivist power station chiefly due to the timber chimneys, the stack effect of which draws air from under seats for natural ventilation.
The venue seats around 225 with ticket prices at £12 and £20, and will play host to artists including debbie tucker green, Polly Findlay, Rufus Norris, Carrie Cracknell, Nick Payne, The TEAM, and Matthew Herbert. Whether a Visitors’ Festival scheduled for September, to feature artists outside the capital, will see the institution making best use of emerging nationwide and international networks remains to be seen.
Speaking at the launch Ben Power, Associate Director at the NT and in charge of programming at the venue, described it as purposed to “encourage risk and experimentation in artists, a place to reconsider their processes”. Power’s hope is that “the sometimes stately procession of work in the main spaces might be disrupted by visitors coming for short periods of time”, adding: “it’s important we put ourselves on the line a little bit.”
The programme will open with Table, written by Tanya Ronder and directed by Rufus Norris, with TEAM arriving in June with their Mission Drift. Future programming will include Home a verbatim theatre piece with music exploring social housing in London devised by Nadia Fall; nut, a new play by debbie tucker green opening in November; a new play by Tim Price on the Occupy movement directed by Polly Findlay, and one from Nick Payne directed by Carrie Cracknell for early 2014. A three week sound installation by electronic musician and composer Matthew Herbert represents plans to include other art forms.
Steve Tompkins, director of architects Haworth Tompkins described “the building yearning toward the river and Waterloo bridge where Michael Elliot stood observing the construction of Lasdun’s building”. Elliot’s enduringly influential speech Not Building for Posterity called for a looser, more demotic and flexible theatre architecture, representing then an attack on municipal centralised theatre, where now, on the other side of post-modernism, merges with visions of pop-ups and other transitory, precarious arts spaces.
Tompkins spoke of an architectural transaction between The Shed and the main spaces, the former to “illuminate the permanent building and have the permanent building illuminate the temporary.” This he saw as part of “making the building more porous towards its urban edges, both physical and cultural” providing a building that was “not authoritarian” and “less grown up”. For Power the venue was a place for the NT to be “representing diversity, and being at the vanguard of that.”
Text and photos by Daniel b. Yates (except initial photo by Samuel Smith)