This month, The Simple Things recommends a visit to the Minack open-air theatre, Cornwall. As well as a programmed of acclaimed performances, the clifftop creation has an intriguing history, too.
If you’re holidaying in Cornwall this month, take a trip to the Minack open-air theatre at Porthcurno. Performances for August include Oh What A Lovely War, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Monty Python and more. Or, just gasp and admire this astonishing creation, built on the cliffs at Porthcurno by Rowena Cade (1893-1983). What started as a one-off performance in the rocky gully at the end of her garden eventually spiralled into a lifelong labour of love, and left us with one of the most breathtakingly beautiful theatres in England.
In 1932, Rowena Cade and two builders carved out a stage and some basic seats in the cliffside for a production of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest'. Lit only by battery powered car headlights and the moon over the sea, the magic of Minack touched its first audience. Performances continued each summer until the outbreak of WW2.
Once the war was over, the theatre was in ruins, but Rowena and her builder spent 4 years restoring it before opening again in 1949. As the years went by, returning audiences grew and so did the theatre, with the addition of seats, steps, walls, arches, pillars and dressing rooms. Since she could not afford granite, the ever resourceful Rowena would carry bags of sand up from Porthcurno beach to mix into cement, drawing celtic patterns into every flat surface before it hardened. Even well into her 80s, Rowena 'The Master Builder' was still doing much of the manual labour herself, all year round, come rain or shine.
Today, the Minack Theatre seats over 700 people and plays host to a mixture of amateur and professional theatre companies, with the main season running from May to September. The tireless work and vision of one woman (and a handful of faithful assistants) has left a legacy which attracts thousands of tourists every year to settle down with a picnic and some blankets, and watch a play set against the backdrop of some of the most stunning Cornish coastline.