At first glance, the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno looks as though it was built by some ancient empire. Nestled into granite cliffs overlooking the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, the venue hosts an array of drama, musical and opera performances throughout the summer months. We popped in for a visit on a non-show day, and my socks were blown off (it is a tad windy) by not only the venue, but the tenacity of its creator.
The Minack Theatre was planned, built and financed by one very plucky Cornish woman, Rowena Cade. A fan of the stage in her youth, she moved to Cornwall following the First World War and settled in a house overlooking the sea near Porthcurno. Due to its remote location, entertainment options were scarce, so Cade became involved with a local theatre group in 1929. Sensing the need for a more dramatic stage for the group’s next production of The Tempest, Cade initially offered her garden before adopting a “go big or go home mentality” and instead opting to build a stage into the cliff beneath her house.
Despite having no previous manual labour experience, she learned the skills needed from her gardeners and they built a theatre. Into a cliff. So determined was she to bring this project to life, Cade and her gardeners even rebuilt the theatre following its destruction in World War II. Every winter until she was in her eighties she worked away, developing her own techniques for working with cement so that it would mimic the appearance of granite, and lugging sand and reclaimed materials from the beach below (including 15ft beams! This woman was a machine). It truly is remarkable to see the theatre as it stands now and realize that it was built not by a team of labourers or fancy equipment but by sheer determination and grit.
From the start of April to the end of September, the theatre is open to day visitors from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., except during certain ticketed and children’s performances. There’s a small exhibit honouring the life of Rowena Cade – a worthwhile stop to gain an even greater appreciation of this beautiful space.
Also a worthwhile stop – Porthcurno Beach. Just don’t blow over the side of the cliff on the path down.