Thespians and theatre lovers would be well advised to pencil in a trip to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall, England – a glorious architectural and theatrical gem perched atop the Minack headland overlooking Porthcurno Bay. This idyllic open-air theatre – built in the Greek style – with its semi-circular terraced seating cut into the Cornish cliff-top and a dramatic up-stage backcloth supplied by the Atlantic Ocean, was the creation of Derbyshire native, Rowena Cade.
Born in 1893, at the tail end of the Victorian era, Rowena was raised in an era absent the TV, PC, and Xbox when families were obliged to provide themselves with their own entertainment. When she was just eight years old Rowena took the leading role in her mother’s production of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” Staged at the family home – “The Homestead” in Spondon, Derbyshire – this performance clearly played a pivotal role in shaping Rowena’s lifelong love of the boards.
In the early 1920’s Rowena purchased a plot of land on the Minack headland and built a large family home which she shared with her mother and sister. The Cade family staged a number of home-grown theatre productions at Minack House where Rowena discovered that she possessed an excellent aptitude for both costume and theatrical property design, thus adding the role of wardrobe and prop mistress as well as “player” to her theatrical credits.
The first major production to be held in the grounds of Minack House was the 1932 performance of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” A play perfectly suited to the rugged Cornish coastline where the shipwreck in the first act has been repeated many times over on this treacherous, storm lashed, stretch of shoreline that’s famed for its wreckers and smugglers.
From Padstow Point to Hartland Light
Is a watery grave by day or night.
For the next fifty years, until her death in 1983, Rowena Cade – in partnership with the Minack Theatre Society and later with the Minack Theatre Trust – worked to expand and improve upon the simple stage and rough seating that were provided for that original 1930’s premiere of The Tempest. The plays of William Shakespeare – Rowena’s favourite playwright – still top the bill at the Minack Theatre but the comic opera “The Pirates of Penzance” penned by W.S. Gilbert and scored by Arthur Sullivan is another seasonal favourite.
There are few open-air theatre locations in England – outside of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London – that can provide a backdrop as magnificent as the Minack, though the principal venue for the medieval York Mystery Plays – the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens in the City of York – would most assuredly run The Minack a close second. Any one of these destinations is worthy of a visit and the Minack especially so because of its spectacular location and stunning vistas coupled with the wonderful tale of one woman’s determination to build a temple to the dramatic arts on an “acre of barren ground, long heath, broom (and) furze” – William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 1.1.
Additional Information: The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 6JU. Tel: +44 (0)1736-810694 Summer Visiting Hours: 9.30am-5pm (except during performances) Winter Visiting Hours: 10am-3.30pm Admission: Adult £4.00 | Over 60 £3.00 Under 16 £2.00 | Under 12 FREE |
Where to Stay (Camping & RVing):
- Cardinney Caravan and Camping Park, Crows-An-Wra, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6HX Tel: +44 (0)1736 810880 – 4.75 acre tent and RV campground with electric hook-ups and water.
- Treverven Touring Park, St. Buryan, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6DL- 6 acre tent and RV park with electric hook-ups and water.
- Lower Treave Caravan and Camping Park, Crows-An-Wra, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6HZ Tel: 01736 810559 – 5 acre tent and RV park with electric hook-ups
- Trevedra Farm, Caravan & Camping Site, Sennen, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 7BE Tel / Fax +44 (0)1736 871835 – Tent and RV camping with electrical hook-ups April through October.
- Tower Park Caravans and Camping, St. Buryan, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 6BZTel: 01736 810286 – Tent and RV camping from March to October.
- Treen Farm Campsite, Treen, St Levan, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6LF Tel: 07598 469322– Tent and RV camping from April through October.