London’s most prominent theater opens a vibrant, temporary stage designed by Haworth Tomkins
Few buildings in London divide opinion quite like the National Theatre on the capital’s South Bank, a short stroll from Waterloo Bridge. The béton brut behemoth was for Prince Charles, “a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting,” while proponents of the Brutalist movement eschewed the accusations of arrogance and 1970s dreariness, instead calling the concrete cubes a unique urban stamp—much like the Trellick Tower—that should be embraced. Whichever side of the aisle you sit on, though, there is near-unanimity that the area lacks a splash of color. The Shed, a 225-seat theater that has just opened as part of The National’s US$100 million development project, will be regarded by many as a rose among thorns. Constructed by architects Haworth Tomkins in just 18 weeks, the bright red shed picks up the slack left by the temporary closure of the Cottesloe Theatre—a 400-capacity venue and one of three main stages at The National. Paddy Dillon, lead architect at Haworth Tomkins, says, “to passersby, it probably looked as if The Shed landed on the South Bank out of thin air. One week they were going to work across Waterloo Bridge as normal; the next, four red chimneys had appeared above the parapet; then there was a massive red packing crate on Theatre Square.” Dillon adds that Amish barns were one source of inspiration for the design, although Prince Charles may feel someone is having some fun at his expense. The Shed is focusing on what the organizers are calling “adventurous, ambitious, and unexpected” stage productions and tickets have been capped at a fairly modest US$18 and US$30. Reservations for the first three shows Table, Bullet Catch, and Mission Drift may be made here.
Upper Ground, Southbank; 44-20/7452-3244