Up until a few months ago, I had never even heard of the Minack Theatre. When we decided to spend a few days in Cornwall and had booked accommodation in Penzance, we started to research places of interest nearby. My son told me that a work colleague had recommended we visit the Minack Theatre at Porthcurno Beach. I initially presumed that this was an ancient amphitheatre, even though I knew that the Romans hadn't got as far as Cornwall. I was astounded to discover that it was in fact planned and built by one inspirational woman, Rowena Cade, in the twentieth century.
The Minack is only about eight miles from Penzance, and it has its own free car park. We, however, did things the hard way, unaware that the car park was free. We wanted to have a look at Porthcurno Beach as well, so we parked in the pay-and-display car park near the beach and headed down to the golden sands. Although it was a cloudy day, the hordes were there and we didn't stay long. We knew that there were two ways we could get to the Minack from the beach: either via the steps up the cliff face, or back to the car park and then up a steep hill. The hill was the longer way round, but I wasn't sure if my knees would enjoy climbing the steep steps. In the end I decided I would give the steps a go but take my time. It wasn't quite as difficult as I had feared, although there isn't a huge amount of space when you have to pass people coming down. You can stop every so often to get your breath, and the view of Porthcurno Bay below is a sight to feast your eyes on, with Logan Rock and the Lizard beyond. When we finally got to the top, we found a gate to the Minack Theatre, but it was locked and we had to walk round through the car park to join the queue.
Fortunately most of the visitors in front of us were members of a group and we were assured that the queue would therefore move very quickly, which it did. I requested our three tickets and was asked if I would like to gift aid the price, so I did. I was given a receipt and told to keep it very carefully as it entitles the holder and family to readmission as many times as they wish over the coming year. I don't think it's very likely that any of us will be going back soon, but I have kept my receipt just in case. I was also given a survey to complete, along with a prepaid envelope. There is a letterbox to post this in on site, but I filled mine in after I had left and posted it.
When you enter the site your are initially faced with the exhibition area. This tells the story of Rowena Cade's life, how she had the concept of building the theatre on the headland beside Minack House and actually carried it through, doing a great deal of the physical work herself. There is plenty to read and plenty to look at, as you see how Rowena loved taking part in theatrical productions as a child and how her love of the theatre led to her devoting most of her adult life to this amazing project. Photographs and costume designs are included here, as well as information about her gardener Billy Rawlings and his mate Tom Angove who assisted with the building work. As well as helping with the building work herself, Rowena financed the construction and running of the theatre on her own. When she died just before her ninetieth birthday in 1983, she left behind plans for covering the theatre in wet weather, but unfortunately these have not been carried out.
We didn't stop to watch the film in the exhibition area but decided to go and have a look at the theatre itself. It is built into the cliff face, right beside the headland, with a series of curved concrete seats. When there is no performance you can walk around and sit for a while wherever you like. The steps are quite steep, but there are handrails for support. You can stand in the light and sound control room and go right down onto the stage. Rowena Cade engraved the concrete slabs with Celtic designs, and some of the backs of the seats bear engravings of the names of plays that have been performed in the theatre. The seats are of course hard, but you can hire cushions if you are attending a performance.
Just beyond the stage are the Minack Rock and the Compass Rock; the word "minack" actually means rocky place. You can go just beyond the stage and get a wonderful view of the rocks, the sea, and Porthcurno Bay over to the east. Just beyond the Minack Rock are some smaller rocks out at sea, and we were able to spot seals bobbing up and down beside them.
On our way out we strolled through the little sub-tropical garden that is near the entrance. The theatre claims that something should be in flower there every month of the year. There clearly had been plenty in flower during the summer, but we visited towards the end of August and it was perhaps a little past its best. Even so, there were some beautiful blooms worthy of a photograph. Some of the plants that are grown there are agaves, poppies, aeonium, puya and silver trees.
As of September 2012, admission prices (purely for visiting without attending a performance) are £4 adult, £3 over 60s, children aged 12-15 £2. Up to three children under twelve can enter free with a paying adult, and there are discounts for groups and students. Children under the age of sixteen have to be supervised at all times. Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the site.
From October through to March, the theatre is open from 10am until 4pm, with last entry at 3pm. From April to September on days when there are no performances, opening hours are from 9.30am until 5.30pm, with last entry at 4.30pm. If there is an afternoon performance, you can visit between 9.30am and noon, last entry being at 11.30am. During the school holidays there are family shows at 10.30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the theatre can get very busy. There is access for wheelchairs, but buggies cannot be accommodated. The only dogs allowed are guide dogs.
The theatre has its own coffee shop that serves light meals, Cornish cream teas and drinks. It is only open to daytime visitors who have paid the entry fee. If you attend a performance at the theatre, there are apparently takeaway meals and drinks. There is also a gift shop that sells souvenirs, clothing, jewellery and a selection of the plants that grow in the sub-tropical garden.
Performances at the Minack Theatre are usually held from early April until late September. Tickets can be bought online, by post, by telephone or in person. The booking office is open from 10am to 5pm on weekdays, and also on Sundays from mid May. Ticket prices for 2012 were either £9.50 or £8 for adults, and £5 or £4 for children under 16. The more expensive seats are in the main auditorium and the cheaper ones are in the upper terraces, but seats are not numbered. Ushers begin showing people to seats ninety minutes before the performance starts. If you book tickets by phone there is a ten percent discount for ten tickets or more. Shows in the 2012 season ranged from Shakespeare and "Die Fledermaus" to Roald Dahl's "The Twits," so there would appear to be something for everyone.
There are bus services from Penzance to the theatre. The 504 stops in the Minack car park, but the 300 and the 1A only go as far as Porthcurno Valley, from where you have to walk 400m up the steep hill.
I would thoroughly recommend anyone visiting Cornwall to make the trip to the Minack Theatre. It is an astounding achievement, and Rowena Cade is a truly inspirational figure. There were quite a few families there, and children were enjoying having the run of the place and seeing the stage and lighting rigs. As well as the theatre itself, the surrounding coast is superb, and a visit to the theatre could easily be combined with an afternoon at the beach. Land's End is only about a ten-minute drive away, and we continued there for a coastal walk afterwards. The Minack Theatre is short listed in 2012 for the Best Heritage Attraction and Best Leisure Attraction in the British Travel Awards, and it is easy to see why.
The Minack Theatre
Tel: 01736 810181/810471
The Minack Theatre really is a truly amazing experience, not only the productions but the views are breath taking.
In 1932 Miss Rowena Cade and her dramatic group performed Shakespeare's Tempest in Porthcurno with the sea as their backdrop in Miss Cades back garden. Liking the setting Cade and her gardener made a terrace and rough seating - the start of the theatre that we see today.
The word Minack in Cornish means rocky place. The edge of the theatre that looks over to the sea is very rocky and many fishermen used to frequent the coves before the theatre productions started.
After the first play shown in 1932 many productions followed performed by local players, such plays included The Tempest and Twelfth Night.
The theatre is not only open for productions but you can visit it as an attraction during the day. There is the Rowena Cade Visitor Centre, this is where you can learn all about the history of the theatre. There is also an amazing coffee shop with spectacular views and you can of course walk around the open air theatre. And a lovely gift shop.
The visitor centre is open through out the year at varying times relevant to the time of the year. The price to look around the visitor centre is:-
Adults £3, Over 60 £2.20, Under 16 £1.20 and under twelve's are free.
The theatre is host to many productions, not just from local players but now also attract some bigger productions. The productions normally run twice a day, both are amazing for different reasons. The evening performances are amazing with all the lights where as the day time ones you get to soak up the sun.
There are also seats in a shaded area if required.
Being an outdoor theatre the performances are open to the elements! So go prepared for all eventualities.
Performances are only cancelled in extreme weather conditions. If the weather is bad in St. Ives or Newquay it doesn't mean it is bad at the Minack, just call ahead and they will let you know the weather conditions.
You can buy tickets to productions online, over the phone and in person at the box office.
Ticket prices are normally:-
Under 16 - £4.50/3.50.
They also offer group rates and special rates for disabled people.
The Minack theatre is situated in Porthcurno, only twenty minuets away from Penzance and it is signposted with a brown tourist sign so is very easy to find.
There is plenty of car parking and there are also disabled parking places available.
The Minack theatre is not only a brilliant tourist attraction but the performances are worth visiting also, a fantastic family day out what ever the weather.
Previously when I have been to Cornwall and the weather has been good we have spent most of our time on the many beaches. This time however the weather was poor, with lots of wind and rain - not the sort of weather you want to be sitting on the beach in, unless you're a surfer of course and then I suppose it is ideal! This didn't really matter too much though because it gave us a chance to visit many of the famous sights and attractions. We visited lots of places including Saint Michaels Mount and the Eden Project, but probably the most charming thing that we visited was the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno. Unlike many of the other attractions it had a real Cornish feel to it and was really worth seeing.
For those of you who have never heard of the Minack Theatre (and that's probably most of you) it's a really spectacular place with a fantastic history to it. The theatre is literally carved in to the rocks of the cliffs at Porthcurno, creating one of the most incredible arenas for live theatre anywhere on the planet - the beauty of it is quite astounding.
In 1932 Miss Rowena Cade and her dramatic group performed Shakespeare's Tempest in Porthcurno with the sea as their backdrop in Miss Cades back garden. Liking the setting Cade and her gardener made a terrace and rough seating - the start of the theatre that we see today. Year upon year the theatre was changed slightly and modernised, theatre companies travelled from miles around to perform their plays on this prestigious stage. Nowadays, the theatre is used between the summer months of June to September and still houses the plays of numerous theatre companies from all over the UK.
Performances are always of an evening with rehearsals sometimes occurring during the daytime - you can sit and watch these if you wish I am led to believe. If you come during the daytime as we did you can explore the whole place, that's not only the theatre but the surrounding gardens too - these are quite extensive and are extremely colourful, containing many different flowers and plants. It really is a must see, if only for the obscurity of the place and the fact that the theatre literally falls back onto the sea. Another perk is that because of the bad weather that is quite often experienced in these parts, it seems that the actors and owners of the theatre have become quite hardened to it and so as a result performances are only ever cancelled in extreme weather conditions - they continue even when it's raining! For this reason if you are seeing one of the plays you should dress appropriately because there is not shelter from the rain whatsoever, although inexpensive rain macs can be purchased.
Although we didn't actually see a live performance because we had other things to do in the evenings it is something which I will definitely do in the future. Visiting the theatre during the daytime was good and there was a lot to see, but you just get the sense that the place really comes alive during the evening when the performances are on. It's quite easy to find too and there is a car park for day visitors and theatre goers.
Prices (for day visit):
Adults £3.50 Over 60's £2.50 Under 16's £1.40 U12's FREE - fantastic value.
9.30am - 5.30pm open daily throughout the year.
Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6JU (4 miles from Lands End) - for directions www.minack.com
Thanks for reading.
(This review is also posted on Ciao under the same name)
The incredible scenery of England’s most south-western corner is truly breathtaking. The rugged cliffs, the crashing waves, beautiful white sand, wind in your hair… and a seagull wailing miserably in the distance as someone sadistically feeds it an aspirin. Combine this with a fine production of theatre and what do you get? An experience unlike any other and surely one I will not experience again for some time. The Minack Theatre, near the town of Porthcurno on the south coast of Cornwall, is truly a magical place. Built almost completely by a woman originally from Cheltenham by the name of Rowena Cade (1893-1983), it not only is an exotic theatre with a summer season of seventeen weeks, but also has an interesting visitor’s centre and a collection of sub-tropical plants thrown into the bargain. Cut out of the cliffs, overlooking the ocean, it’s a nice place to visit at any time of year… although in my opinion, I’m not sure if anywhere in England is pleasant to visit in winter. * * * The Theatre * * * Rowena began the theatre itself in 1929 when she organised a village play to be held in an almost natural amphitheatre. With an enormous amount of hard work and dedication she converted the cliff face into organised row upon row of rock seating. Over many years it has developed under her hands and eventually others as well into the current 750 seat modern auditorium. Each year from mid-May to mid-September, outdoor productions of Shakespeare classics, opera, musicals and traditional plays are staged in this unique setting. This year a total of seventeen different productions were squeezed into this seemingly short amount of time. I visited the area at the end of May while travelling with a friend of mine also from Australia. We had spent the day on the beach in St. Ives, trying to find some proper sunshine and sand, and managed to take the public bus that goes almost directly to the theatre. It is
possible to do this, as the length of the production meant we would be able to catch the LAST bus back to Penzance. Probably not a good idea when seeing longer shows. While we were there they were showing a production of “Little Shop of Horrors” which is always good fun to sing along to and annoy your neighbours, so we went along with hopes of embarrassing ourselves totally. With no chance of seat reservation (not for the regular tourists like us anyway) you must line up outside the theatre an hour and a half before ‘curtain-up’ to attempt to secure a good view. Mad rush!! Actually I was a little disappointed it was so orderly and civil… a few elbows here and there couldn’t have gone astray. Since you get there so early, it is advisable to bring a picnic too. It’s a pleasant enough place to have one, and we felt rather left out with our packet of co-op biscuits while the group behind us munched on fresh vegetables and gourmet dips and crisps. We’re poor GAP students, I should point out we were also camping in someone’s backyard in Penzance to save money! Things are all comfortable and great and we’re enjoying the show, until the sun disappears totally. Then it gets cold. Luckily we had planned ahead and brought my sleeping bag… with which I apparently scored high on the opinion poll of my friend, and then lost those points (and more… it was the first time I had gone into negative opinion) when trying to mash it back into its bag and preventing my entire row from leaving. Oh well. Seriously bring warm things though as it does get cold. And the seats (as they are made of stone) are not too comfy after a long period of time. We used our beach towels… they didn’t quite work plus they made our bums wet, so if you have a chance to then bring cushions. It is possible to hire some there. * * * The Visitor’s Centre * * * The Visitor’s Centre
is open all year round and guides you through the story of Rowena and her grand visions as well as many photographs, displays and models of past productions and the theatre throughout its various stages of creation. Plus if you get bored of the extremely close and secluded beach, it’s only a short walk up the hillside to the café and gift shop which are also worth a visit if only for the view and nothing else. * * * Odds and Ends * * * The Centre is open from 9:30am to 5:30pm April to September, and 10am to 4pm from October to March. The costs of these visits are £2.50 for Adults, £1 for students, £1.80 for seniors and free for children under the age of 12. Plus they allow you to return for free anytime up until March 2002. Evening performances usually start at around 8pm, and there are some matinees that start about 2pm. Ticket prices for shows are either £6.50 or £5.50 for adults and half price for children under 16. So even we could afford it! Further information from www.minack.com and future programmes can be obtained by sending a self-addressed envelope to The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall, TR19 6JU. And you may have gathered I don’t like seagulls very much. But don’t worry, I don’t really feed them aspirin. :)