The Minack Open Air Theatre is in one of the most beautiful settings anywhere in the world, perched high on golden cliffs above the turquoise sea
The Minack Open Air Theatre was originally constructed in the 1930s by Rowena Cade, who lived in the house just behind the theatre. The Rowena Cade Exhibition tells the remarkable story of how the girl who enjoyed a privileged upbringing built this famous theatre with her own hands. She worked every winter in all sorts of weather until she was well in her eighties. When she died, just before her ninetieth birthday, she left sketches suggesting how the Minack Theatre might be covered on rainy days. Unfortunately there has never been sufficient cash to implement her plans.
At the beginning, granite was cut by hand and stones were inched into place. The terraces were constructed from earth, stones and pebbles on a slope above a sheer drop into the ocean. The first performance held in the theatre was “The Tempest” in 1932. The stage was lit mainly by batteries and car headlights. As the moon shone across the water below, the Minack Theatre came magically alive for the first time. In 1944 the Minack was chosen as a location in “Love Story”, a film starring Stewart Grainger and Margaret Lockwood. The film featured “Cornish Rhapsody”, which became a popular piano recording.
Now this theatre that began as a garden venue has developed into a world-famous venue for good amateur theatrical groups. As players in such groups, many of today’s stars have appeared on this open air stage. These include Michael York, Sheridan Morley, John Nettles, Sue Pollard, Will Self, Jack Shepherd and Sarah Brightman, to name just a few.
The summer season of plays, musicals and operettas runs for seventeen weeks from May to September each summer. The great works of Shakespeare are still performed and accompanied by live music in this beautiful setting. The operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan are performed regularly, especially the most popular “Pirates of Penzance”.
In 1976, Rowena Cade donated the Minack Theatre to a charitable trust which now administers it. Shortly afterwards, she purchased a bungalow and more land to provide offices and a larger car park. The Visitor Centre is now open daily throughout each year but the theatre is closed for viewing during matinee performances. There are some impressive sub tropical plants, planted by Rowena Cade and a coffee shop overlooks the theatre.
The Minack Theatre and Visitor Centre are situated about half an hour by road from the town of Penzance, just outside Porthcurno. Parking in the large car park is free. A number of travel operators arrange trips from Penzance, St Ives, Mullion, Falmouth and Camborne.
The best time to visit the Minack theatre will always be on a lovely summer evening, when the moon is shining on the sea and the lights of an occasional fishing vessel can be seen as it makes its way into harbour. No matter whether the play is Shakespeare, Arthurian legend or a musical, there is an undeniable magic here.