The Minack Theatre clings perilously to a cliff, a stone’s throw from Land’s End. Its story revolves around the sheer determination of one woman, Rowena Cade.
The daughter of a mill owner, Rowena was born in a village near Derby in 1893. She made her stage debut in a local production aged eight, but her contribution to British theatre was only just beginning. After the First World War, she moved to Cornwall and built a house overlooking the sea near Porthcurno. In such a remote location, entertainment had to be homemade and she became involved with a local theatre group which staged an open-air
production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1929.
For their next project, The Tempest, the theatre group needed a more dramatic stage. Rowena initially offered her garden, but decided instead to build a stage into the cliff beneath her house. With no previous manual labour experience, Rowena learned how to build from her gardeners, with whom she created the rudimentary beginnings of the theatre that exists today.
The 1932 Tempest production at the new Minack Theatre earned a mention in The Times, but before its newfound popularity could be realised, the Second World War intervened, and the theatre was ruined. Undaunted, Rowena and her gardeners set to work to recreate it after the war. She worked on the Minack every winter until she was well into her eighties. When she died in 1983, she left behind a solid and lasting – albeit rather windy – theatrical legacy, which now houses an exhibition on Rowena Cade as well as staging summer productions.
Don’t miss: the box office – made from a converted Second World War gun post.
The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall TR19 6JU