The Story of the Minack began in 1929, when Rowena Cade became involved with an open-air production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a valley near Porthcurno. It was such a success that three years later the company wished to stage The Tempest and Rowena Cade offered them the use of her cliff garden for the performance.
In 1932, the Minack – from ‘meynek’, meaning ‘rocky place’ in Cornish – opened to the public, a magnifcent open-air amphitheatre seemingly clinging to the rock face by sheer gravity. The phenomenal achievement of Miss Cade and her dedicated gardener, Billy Rawlings, this unique theatre, which was originally intended for just one week of performance,
The Minack is an entrancing place to visit at any time of year, especially in spring when the weather grows warmer and plants begin to wake up from their winter slumber (is this the only theatre in the UK to have a sub-tropical garden actually in the auditorium?).
Visitors to the Minack can discover the extraordinary story of Rowena Cade and how she built this amazing space with her own hands, experience breath-taking views over Porthcurno Bay, and look out for the seals and other marine mammals that visit our shores in spring. Don’t forget to enjoy a cream tea or a snack in the café, with its panoramic vista, or relax with a picnic on the grass terraces.
Of course, The Minack is first and foremost a theatre and there’s a full programme of events happening in April and May. During the Easter holidays, look out for Hetty Feather by Emma Reeves, based on the popular children’s books by Jacqueline Wilson.
“This production was in rehearsal in 2020 when Covid struck,” explains The Minack’s executive director, Zoë Curnow. “The set was built, and we were only a few days from opening when lockdown was announced. The cast includes a number of young performers from our Minack Acting Academy, and it was especially heart-breaking for them to cancel after all their hard work.
“It’ll be very emotional to bring it back to life now, after the two years we’ve all been through. It’s an appropriate play with which to start a new year, as it celebrates the triumph of the human spirit through even the darkest times. I just hope the children haven’t grown too much, or we may need to make new costumes!”
During the school holidays, storytelling events take place three times a week to entertain families with young children, while grown-ups should look out for Miss Cade’s gardener, Billy Rawlings (played by actor Mark Harandon), who will give you a first-hand account of how the Minack was built.
A highlight of the spring season will be Calvino Nights, a new production by Mike Shepherd with the Minack Theatre and imPossible Producing. The founder and former artistic director of Kneehigh, Mike was inspired by folk tales collected and rewritten by 20th century writer Italo Calvino: a boy the size of a pea, a skinflint miser, a woman who lives on nothing more than wind. The show invites the audience to join the marvellous Mr Calvino and his motley troupe of tale-tellers, song-makers and fire-raisers for an unforgettable ride through life on the edge – quite literally! Calvino Nights is described as “a good night out” for ages 8+.
“We are delighted to be working with Mike on this new piece of theatre,” says Zoë. “Many generations of Cornish school children – myself included – were inspired by Mike’s work at the Minack in the early days of Kneehigh, and we are really excited to reintroduce this style of performance to a new generation of young people, the Cornish community and our visitors.”
As part of the Minack’s 90th anniversary celebrations, look out for a special exhibition about the beginnings of the theatre and the very first production that took place there in 1932. This Rough Magic opens at the Minack this Easter.
For information on everything happening at the Minack Theatre this spring, visit minack.com
NB. The Minack is always busy in holiday seasons, so advance booking for all visits and performances is strongly advised at any time and essential during school holidays.