Updated: May 22
Carved out of a rocky cliff high above Porthcurno, The Minack Theatre is one of the most spectacular in the world. With its steeply terraced seating and circular stage, it looks like a Greek or Roman amphitheatre but it was in fact created by a remarkable woman in the 1930s.
Rowena Cade was born into a wealthy family of mill owners in Derbyshire in 1893 but after the First World War she moved to Cornwall where she bought the dramatic Minack headland and had a home built for herself and her widowed mother.
Rowena, a talented costume designer, became involved in local amateur dramatics. After a successful production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at nearby Crean, it was decided that the rocky area below Minack House would be the perfect setting for The Tempest. The area was steep and covered with gorse but with the help of her gardener, Billy Rawlings, Rowena set about creating a simple stage and some seating.
The Tempest was performed in 1932. The stage was illuminated by car headlights and batteries but the show was a success, even receiving positive a review in The Times. This encouraged Rowena to develop the theatre further.
Over the next few decades she and Billy, later assisted by Charles Angove, worked tirelessly using only simple hand tools. They hauled bags of sand from the beach below to make concrete from which most of the structures are built. Over the years Rowena developed a technique for making the surface look like stone and she used a screwdriver to add the distinctive Celtic-inspired patterns that decorate the theatre.
Despite her small stature, Rowena was indefatigable, single-handedly carrying 15ft timber beams up the steep path from a cargo ship wrecked in the bay. She continued working on the theatre well into her 80s by which time she had handed over the administration to a charitable organisation.
Today, the Minack stages more than live 200 performances each and is visited by thousands of people from around the world. You don’t have to see a show to experience the theatre; you can pay to walk around and explore. Garden lovers in particular will appreciate the succulents and other exotic plants that cling to the cliffside. If you do attend a performance then I highly recommend taking a cushion, a blanket and clothes for every weather eventuality. Being at the mercy of the elements is all part of the thrill of a Minack performance.
For more information or to book visit the website at https://minack.com
Make a Day of It
The Minack Theatre is situated above the beautiful beach and turquoise waters of Porthcurno. With lifeguard cover during the holiday season, it’s a great beach for families.
In 1870, the first undersea telegraph cable was brought ashore at Porthcurno, making the valley a hub for global communications. Explore its history at The Museum of Global Communications. Find out more here https://pkporthcurno.com
One of our favourite walks starts at Porthcurno and follows the South West Coast Path past the famous Logan Rock. You can learn more here https://www.middlecolensofarm.co.uk/post/a-circular-walk-from-porthcurno-to-penberth
If you're a fan of detective fiction then grab yourself a copy of Nicola Upson's entertaining Angel with Two Faces. Her heroine, the real-life detective novelist and playwright Josephine Tey is staying with a friend at his family estate in Cornwall (Penrose, just down the road from the cottages here at Middle Colenso) and finds herself caught up in the 1935 production of The Jackdaw of Rheims at The Minack.