Minack Theatre, Cornwall

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"Minack" in Cornish means a rocky place and the 1930’s was only had Rowena Cade's house here.

The story of the Minack Theatre is the story of one woman, Rowena Cade. She was born in 1893 in Derbyshire. The Cades moved to Cheltenham when Rowena's father retired in 1906. When the First World War broke out, she went to work selecting and breaking horses which were shipped out to the front lines in France and Belgium. With the war finished, her husband was dead and Rowena's mother sold their home in Cheltenham. Rowena discovered the Minack headland, when renting a house at Lamorna, and bought it for £100. There she built a house for herself and her mother using granite from a St. Levan quarry.

She offered to let local friends put on "The Tempest" in her gardens, using the rugged coastline offered an appropriate backdrop but there were no seats for the audience. So she set about constructing what we know today as the Minack Thratre.It took six months for Rowena and two Cornish craftsmen to build a simple stage and some rough seating.

The first performance of "The Tempest" in the summer of 1932 was lit by batteries, car headlights and a power feed brought down from Minack House. Until then the nearest she had come to manual work was sewing and mucking out horses. During that first winter of 1931-32, she worked as a labourer for her gardener Billy Rawlings and his mate Charles Thomas Angove.

Granite was cut by hand from local rock. The terraces were in-filled with earth. Over the next seven years the theatre was improved. Then with World War II the army took over the site, and by the end of the war it had virtually returned to nature. Yet Rowena slowly brought the Minack back to life. She converted the gun post the army had built into the theatre's Box Office.

Through the early fifties she and Billy Rawlings completed an access road, a car park and a flight of 90 steps up from the beach. Unable to afford the cost of granite, she had developed her own technique for working with cement. She fetched sand from Porthcurno beach initially with bags on her back and then in her cars. She worked each winter in all weathers until she was in her mid-eighties.

Good amateur theatrical groups are encouraged to play at the Minack Theatre. Michael York, Sheridan Morley, John Nettles, Sue Pollard, Sarah Brightman, Will Self, Jack Shepherd, Hugh Dancy and Charlotte Church have all appeared on the Minack's stage.

In 1976, when she was well over eighty, Rowena Cade gave the Minack Theatre to a Charitable Trust which was set up to receive it. The Trustees extended the season of plays, built a Visitor Centre which is open all year round. This has attracted larger audiences and at last the Theatre is able to pay its way.

In the future, the Trustees have objectives -

To preserve the magic of what Rowena Cade created while developing a fully equipped modern theatre. To attract large audiences and yet put on programmes that have real variety. To book new and sometimes inexperienced companies, while maintaining high standards of performance. To keep ticket prices low and yet generate the money needed to repair and improve the theatre.


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