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01 August 2019

History of the Minack Theatre

The result of a lifetime’s work by Rowena Cade and her gardener, Billy Rawlings, the Minack Theatre is globally renowned for being one of the most breathtaking open-air theatres in the world.

Born in Spondon near Derby in 1893, Rowena Cade moved to Cornwall after the First World War. In the 1920’s, she bought the Minack Headland for £100 and built her home overlooking the sea. Although she had no initial grand plans, a local theatre group put the word out in 1929 that they were looking for a new venue to perform their next play, the Tempest. Like a match sparking a flame, the call thoroughly captured Cade and the future of The Minack Theatre was sealed.

Deciding that the cliffs below her garden on the headland would be the ideal place to create an amphitheatre, Cade and her gardener Billy Rawlings set to work. Although Cade herself had no formal training as a landscaper or gardener, she began the enormous feat of clearing tons of granite boulders and earth from the cliffs. From the winter of 1931 until well into 1932, they undertook backbreaking work to create what is now the first lower terraces of the theatre.

Successfully managing to conceive a useable space, Cade was able to invite the theatre group to stage their show at the Minack Theatre in 1932. Receiving rapturous praise, it was even cited in the Times newspaper, setting the stage for countless performances to come. Thoroughly fuelled, Cade and her team continued making improvements, forging grass-topped seating from the rocks and building basic stage structures from which thespians could entertain and enthral.

Selling tickets from a trestle table and inviting audiences to gather for shows by clambering down steep slopes to their seats, the rudimentary beginnings of Minack Theatre were well underway in the late 1930’s. While progress was halted because of the Second World War, by the time the theatre reopened in 1955, Cade and Rawlings had already achieved something quite extraordinary.

Utterly devoted, Cade made the creation of the theatre her life’s work and continued working on the theatre every winter until she was well into her eighties. When she died in 1983 at 89 years old, she had achieved something nothing short of miraculous and left behind her a profound legacy. Today, the theatre aids performances with the latest technology in sound and lighting and welcomes more than 150,000 visitors every year.

One for everyone’s Cornish bucket list, the Minack Theatre is usually used as a theatre between Easter and September and hosts artists from all over the UK and the US. Boasting utterly spellbinding views over Porthcurno beach below, the unique beauty of the theatre itself is rivalled by only that of its location and truly has to be seen to be believed.

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