Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Minack Theatre

This Summer I was lucky enough to visit my home, Cornwall, while the sun shone. When the sun is shining, there is no better place to be, and after a swim in the turquoise waters of Porthcurno Beach, my mum and I decided to see if we could get tickets for a show at the Minack, a theatre perched upon the cliffs above the beach. We were in luck, and a day or two later, in the scorching Summer sunshine, we found ourselves at the open air theatre, watching a musical. The entertainment was all very good, but the real attraction is the setting. When training to be a teacher I had to prepare a speech about something of interest to me. Mine was on the Minack, and here is more or less what I said: 'In between two little coves at the south westerly tip of Cornwall, Porthcurno and Porthchapel, is a place of stunning natural beauty. It is called the Minack Theatre, and to me it is a magical place. From 1931 until she died in 1983 the Minack Theatre was planned, built and financed by one determined woman - Rowena Cade. Rowena discovered the Minack headland and bought it for £100. There she built a house for herself and her mother. Then she had the idea of building a theatre, because there was no suitable stage for the local production of 'The Tempest'. It took six months for Rowena and two Cornish men to build a simple stage and some rough seating. The first performance of 'The Tempest' was in the summer of 1932. But Rowena kept building throughout her life to make the Minack into what it is today. There is now a lot of seating, changing rooms, a box office, museum, car park, shop and lighting box, all thanks to Rowena. Over the years she dragged driftwood up the cliffs with her bare hands, and as she could not afford the cost of granite, she developed her own technique for working with cement. Using the tip of an old screwdriver she decorated the surfaces with lettering and intricate Celtic designs before they hardened. She fetched sand from Porthcurno beach in bags on her back until she finally got a car. She worked throughout every winter, (and they can be quite savage in Cornwall) so that the Theatre could be open every summer, until she was in her mid-eighties. When she died, just before her ninetieth birthday, she left elaborate sketches suggesting how the Theatre could continue to evolve to provide a unique performing space for Cornwall. And it is. Watching a performance in the open air with only the Isles of Scilly to come between you and America is a unique experience. You might see the Scillonian pass, or some fishermen in the distance, backlit by moonlight. You will certainly hear the seagulls. If you're lucky you might be visited by the dolphins, puffins and basking sharks which frequent the haunting waters. But the best bit is that you are encouraged to bring food, blankets, champagne, and people come early to appreciate the view, and share wonderful picnics. "Minack" in Cornish means a rocky place. To me it means a lot more, and no visit to Cornwall is complete without a trip to Rowena Cade's Minack Theatre.'

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