Another Little Theatre by the Sea

I was SO excited about going to see a performance of Tristan and Iseult at the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno. What could be more atmospheric? Kneehigh Theatre Company had received rave reviews for their production and I was desperate to visit Cornwall’s own Little Theatre by the Sea.

But. On Monday it rained and rained and rained. There were gales. There was more rain. Sadly, the performance was cancelled….

However, undeterred, we visited the Minack to find out more about this special theatre, braving rain and wind to see for ourselves, the amazing achievement by Rowena Cade.

Rowena Cade started building the theatre on the cliffs at the bottom of her garden in order to stage The Tempest back in 1932. (Monday’s weather conditions would have been perfect for this). A small group of players had already put on Midsummer Night’s Dream in a meadow at nearby Crean, but there was no seating and somewhere more permanent (and atmospheric) had to be found.

Rowena had the answer and she made it her life’s work. In the winter of 1931/2 she started building, helped by gardener Billy Rawlings. Between them they created a grassy stage lit up by batteries and car headlights; the audience had to clamber down a gorse-lined path and The Minack Theatre was born.

Over the years, Rowena continued to work on the theatre to improve the seating and stage, with the help of two gardeners. She even carried sand in bags on her back from Porthcurno beach up steep steps carved into the granite for the next day’s building – hands on even when she was in her eighties. What an incredible achievement and an amazing woman.

At the Minack – now run by a Trust which continues to improve the theatre in line with Rowena’s vision – you can visit an exhibition to learn more about the building of the theatre and Rowena Cade’s life. You can visit the café and you can walk around this amazing theatre space perched on the rocks above the wild Atlantic ocean.

I will be back to visit this wonderful Little Theatre by the Sea again very soon.

© Rosanna Ley
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