Newest Review: ... jewellery and a selection of the plants that grow in the sub-tropical garden. Performances at the Minack Theatre are usually held fr... more
The astounding achievement of an inspirational woman
Member Name: frangliz
Advantages: Beautiful location with views of the Cornish coast
Disadvantages: Very exposed to the elements
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
Summary: Rowena Cade's amazing outdoor theatre