21 August 2012

Minack – Possibly the Coolest Theater in the World

The Minack Theater near Land’s End in Cornwall (UK) was the vision of one redoubtable woman – Rowena Cade (pictured left in her later years).

Her tenacity and love of the theater led to the creation of possibly the coolest theater in the world – perched precariously at the edge of the sea and made of stone.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to Minack Theater.

When you first come across the Minack Theater your first impression is that perhaps it was something left behind by the Romans. After all, four hundred and odd years is a long time to occupy a country without finding some reminder of your time spent at leisure. However, those ideas are soon dispelled when you learn a little about the place and discover that – amazingly – the theatre is less than a hundred years old. It may not be as old one might at first imagine but most people leave the place with the idea that this is possibly one of the coolest theaters in the world.

Cool is certainly the word for it – freezing might be the better word for at times the Cornish weather is inclement to say the least. However, the Cornish are hardy folk and the stupendous views to be had from the seating at the theater is the perfect back drop for performances – especially ones which suit the environment such as The Life of Pi (above). The theater was the brainchild of a woman – Rowena Cade – who had made Porthcorno Bay, which the theater overlooks her home. Stirred no doubt by the breathtaking scenery she started something which survives to this day.

In fact, it was (quite appropriately) Shakespeare's The Tempest which was the first play to be performed at the theater – even though it looked somewhat different then than it does today. Miss Cade offered her house’s garden next to the sea after the local village theater group had put on two successful performances of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream the previous two summers. She felt that the meadow in which they had staged their production did not have the necessary grandeur for an open air performance. At the very least the edge of her garden would give any production a backdrop that no theatrical designer could hope to imitate.

The history of the theater is literally carved in to the rocks. Visitors are able to see the plays that have been produced their by simply looking at the seating. Year by year the dates and productions are recorded in to a memorial that will last for hundreds if not thousands of years. Perhaps in the year five thousand people archaeologists may come here to discover and ponder the culture of our lost civilisation.

So it was that in the summer of 1932 The Tempest was produced and was a huge success. The theater itself was still something of a nascent project at this point – Miss Cade had, with the help of her gardener, hauled materials from the house and the beach to the place where the fully formed theater was to be. No need to climb nowadays - the theater's webcam can show you what's happening there right now.

Over the forthcoming years she would repeat this every winter, improving the theater in a drawn out, year by year process. She was helped in this herculean task by Billy Rawlings and Charles Angove and the theatrical productions went – as did the theater – from strength to strength.

The Minack Theater grew in reputation and in 1944 it was used as a setting for part of the film Love Story, a vehicle for two huge stars of the day, Margaret Lockwood and Stuart Granger.

The weather unfortunately conspired against them and they were forced to film most of the scenes due to be shot at the Minack in the studio - yet on the right is a photograph from part of the film which could be shot there. A roof was not an option for the yearly summer plays (not even today!) – yet these actors were made of sterner stuff and even did without dressing rooms until they were built in 1955.

The theater was registered as a Charitable Trust since 1976 and Rowena Cade died in 1983 leaving the theater in the hands of local management team. The theater still operates during the summer season and it draws actors and audiences from all over the world. On its seventy fifth anniversary in 2007 the theater staged The Tempest again in a tribute to Cade and those people who had made the theater possible in the first place.

At night the theater can be even more magical than in the daylight.

Minack is still going strong. As well as several pre-season events in May this year the Minack Theater will be home to no less than eighteen productions from the end of May to the middle of September.

As well as the usual staple of Shakespeare such as The Tempest (above) Romeo and Juliet and Love’s Labour’s Lost the productions include James And The Giant Peach, The Mikado and West Side Story. Perhaps the production most appropriate for this outdoor environment with the sea as a backdrop was the August 2009 production of Moby Dick – The Musical. Even Madam Butterfly has made it to the Minack stage.

The theater will remain forever a testament to the tenacious, theater loving woman who was inspired by the beauty of Cornwall and the verse of William Shakespeare.

First Image Credit Flickr User CernIO