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Minack Theatre
Porthcurno, Cornwall, UK
associated engineer
Rowena Cade
date  1932 and onwards
era  Modern  |  category  Stadium/Arena/Pool  |  reference  SW386220
The Minack Theatre gets its name from the Cornish for 'stony', and it is located on a rocky granite crag above Porthcurno beach 4.8km south east of Land's End. It is built in the style of an open-air Roman amphitheatre with steep terraces of seats cut into the cliffs and the sea as a backdrop.
In the 1920s Derbyshire-born Rowena Cade moved to Cornwall and bought the Minack headland for 100. She built a house there, and saw the potential of its cliff-side garden for an open-air theatre. During the harsh winter of 1931-2 she and two Cornishmen, Billy Rawlings and Charles Thomas Angove, laboured for 6 months to construct a rudimentary stage and some seating. The first play, Shakespeare's The Tempest, was staged in summer 1932 with evening performances lit by batteries, car headlamps and power from Minack House.
Between 1932 and 1939, the three of them fashioned the sheer slopes into terraces edged with granite hand-cut from the surrounding boulders and filled with small stones and earth. During World War II, as a security measure, the coast was cleared of all defences and the tiered seating of the theatre was no exception. But Rowena Cade had some redress, after the war, a gun emplacement built to repel the enemy was turned into the theatre's box office.
In the 1950s the team added granite walls, an access road, a car park and 90 steps from the theatre to the beach. Some of the seating tiers and the steps and paths between terraces were made from concrete, as they were unable to afford the cost of granite. Sand for the concrete was taken from Porthcurno beach, and once timbers were 'reclaimed' from the wreck of a Spanish freighter and used in the dressing room roof. Other terraces were faced with stone risers but had turf laid on the treads.
Sadly the theatre ran at a loss and, apart from three years of assistance from the National Council of Social Services, no organisation was able to give financial help. In 1976, Rowena Cade gave the theatre to a charitable trust, which extended the performance season and built a visitor centre, enabling the theatre to operate profitably.
Rowena Cade died in 1983, but the Minack Theatre Trust has continued what she began and the theatre now has seating for 750 and holds performances from Monday to Friday during the 17-week summer season whatever the weather. Folding seats with backrests can be hired to counteract the effects of the hard ground.
Labourers: Billy Rawlings, Charles Thomas Angove
Research: ECPK
bibliography
www.minack.com
Location

Minack Theatre