By John Masters
Meridian Writers’ Group
PORTHCURNO, England—On a blustery cliff on Cornwall’s south
coast is a folly grown from a garden.
In 1929 Miss Rowena Cade, 35, saw a travelling band of players
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
her home in Porthcurno. It so impressed her that she offered her garden for a
future performance of
Alas, the garden, part way down the cliff face on Minack Point,
was too small. Undeterred, Miss Cade hauled up sand and stone from the beach,
levelled a terrace and, with the help of villagers, cut seats into the rock.
went on, with the properly moody
English Channel as a backdrop, and everyone said she must do another, so she
And then another and another. Each winter she would add
something to her amphitheatre and every summer there’d be more plays. This went
on for 50 years, until 1983 when Rowena Cade died at age 89. By then she’d
created a performance space that, from some angles, looks classically Greek and
from others as if the Flintstones built it.
And her folly was attracting tens of thousands of visitors a
year, to see plays or just to wander about the remarkable construction. A small
exhibition centre was added in 1986 (opened by Michael York, who played Romeo
here in 1964), and later a restaurant and gift shop.
Phil Jackson, the Minack’s artistic director, now runs a
17-week season (from May to September) with 17 plays performed by British and
international troupes. Miss Cade’s theatre has grown to 750 seats.
“There are a lot of companies that want to perform here,” says
Jackson. The unique site offers directors plenty of opportunity for innovation,
and the sound of waves crashing against the rocks below and the changing
weather of the broad sea vista add emotion to a production.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
particular benefit from the dramatic setting, but the Minack’s bill of fare
. “Every year we do a couple of Shakespeares, one
opera, a couple of musicals and a comedy,” says Jackson.
More than 75,000 attend a play at the Minack annually, bringing
blankets and, if they like, renting cushions to sit on. Jackson monitors
several Internet weather sites, and if it’s raining at 7 p.m. he’ll cancel the
night’s 8 p.m. show — but he only has to do that two or three times a season.
Sometimes, though, the weather gods decide to have a little
fun. Jackson recalls a performance of
back in the 1990s that started under fair skies, but
rapidly changed. “We could see a storm coming across the water,” he says. “The
performance went on and the cast continued, even as the rain began to fall in
earnest, then in torrents.”
Then lightning hit the headland. Jackson was on the microphone,
telling the audience it was time to leave when the bolt struck. “I was knocked
backwards against the rock. That was memorable.”
As for the audience, “they were soaked, but they loved it.”
For more information on the Minack Theatre visit its website at
. (Two web cams regularly
update images of the site.)
For information on travel in Britain go to the Visit Britain