Minack Then and Now

Minack Then and Now

Minack Then and Now

                          MINACK.......THEN & NOW!

Those of you who have enjoyed the happy anticipation of walking across the road at Bolton Abbey, and then as you have passed through the ‘hole in the wall’ you have had that wonderful experience of seeing one of the best pastoral views of Wharfedale opening up in front of you, may appreciate that far away near Lands End in the south-west of Cornwall you can also have that same excitement as you pass the gorgeous fine soft white sand and the clear turquoise sea of the National Trust Porthcurno Beach, climb the steep hill to a car park and walk down through some low buildings and out on to a high terrace where, unfolding in front of you is one of the most dramatic seascapes you will ever see.  

The view looking down across many rows of grass covered seats on to the unique Minack Theatre stage, carved out of the granite cliffs, and then away down to the sea another sixty feet below and across the wide bay to the distant silhouette of the high cliffs of the Logan Rock, creates an almost physical shock. I mean it!  No matter how many times you visit this bewitching place you will always have this happy, memorable reunion. For many of us the bi-annual visit to the Minack Theatre has become part of our normal way of life.  

After several years of planning, writing numerous letters, sending photographs and playbills and through several visits by our then artistic director David Wildman to meet the theatre’s founder Rowena Cade, the Playhouse was finally invited to produce ‘A Winter’s Tale’ in Cornwall in August 1975.  We won the coveted Minack trophy with ‘Camelot’ a few years later in 1979, with Kay Vann playing Guinevere and Malcolm Pinder as King Arthur.

Since those early days when the theatre facilities were very primitive and the box office was a concrete gun turret left over from the Second World War, there is now a splendid shop, cafe, exhibition centre and ‘state of the art’ loos!  

Our Company has been fortunate to visit the theatre almost every two years with a wide range of musicals and plays.This year with the still currently relevant play, ‘Blue Stockings’, we shall be making our twenty-second visit. Throughout the years on the Saturday morning following the previous evening’s final performance, there is a time of anxiety whilst we wait to learn if we shall be invited back. So far the answer has always been ‘Yes, we shall be pleased to see you again!’

It is essential though that we continue to produce the very best of non-professional theatre and leave a good impression as there is always huge competition from other companies to visit this prestigious venue.  The commitment to a Minack visit is absolute. It is ensemble theatre at its best with everyone, director, actors, technical staff and family members totally involved. Some are perhaps ‘sacrificing’ their annual summer holiday to the venture and everyone will  be involved from emptying the company van of costumes and props and by being a part of a human chain passing everything down the steep auditorium to the stage and dressing rooms.

The set has to be built, the lighting installed and everything prepared for a ‘run’ later that day. On the following day, a Sunday ‘dress’ rehearsal is performed in front of the theatre Trustees and the Friends of Minack and we open on the Monday for seven performances including two matinees.

At the end of a memorable week the final commitment is to the repacking of everything after the last performance and leaving the dressing rooms and all the backstage facilities in an immaculate condition, ready for the next company to use. This is a cheerful chore for everyone, often completed after midnight.

It is very important to say that in all this concentration of theatrical life we have a lot of fun, including a traditional Cornish cream tea for the company.   It is a real privilege to be part of any production.  My family and I have been involved with fifteen productions over the last thirty years and certain special, happy memories come to mind.

For example, we shall remember a rustic, flamboyant, Andrew Leggott playing Bottom in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and during the ‘mechanicals’ play within the play, Andrew taking an absolute age to die.... several times!  

On another occasion James Kingsley was very flattered when he was almost propositioned by one of the attractive Penzance Tesco check-out  ladies when she recognised him as the robust and attractive King of Siam in ‘The King and I’.  Incidentally James played all seven performances barefooted on the very hot concrete stage. He wore colourful spangled costumes and had to act and dance with ‘Anna’ with the addition of a prominent piece of ‘Elastoplast’ wrapped around a stubbed big toe!  

We remember the tangible atmosphere created by our actors and Becky Sheldon’s piercing scream chilled us to the marrow in the trial scene of ‘The Crucible’, - that year we won the Minack Trophy for a second time - and of course, there was my friend Tim Mutton being seriously but very tastefully amorous with that lovely actress Lucy Moore and with the aid of a handy kitchen table in the wonderfully rambunctious ‘Joseph Andrews’.

I played the ship’s captain at the beginning of ‘The King and I’ and took great care with my costume and felt I looked completely dapper and authentic for the 1860’s in Siam as I strutted the large stage in front of nearly seven hundred people.  One evening as I was about to go on stage David Wildman our Director walked past and loudly exclaimed “B----- H--- Roger, you’ve got your sideburns on ‘oop’ side down!”  

I still miss the warm comforting tights that I wore as an old lady in Cornwall for ‘The Lady Killers’.

Perhaps my abiding memory of all is when Richard Speight, our talented lighting designer, flooded the whole of the Minack Stage with an atmospheric, soft green light for the closing scene of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.  On cue a full harvest moon rose slowly out of the dark blue sea as Puck addressed the audience with Shakespeare’s beautiful words:

                                     “ If we shadows have offended,
                                      Think but this, and all is mended,
                                      That you have but slumbered here
                                      While these visions did appear
                                      And this weak and idle theme,
                                      No more yielding but a dream,
                                      Gentles, do not reprehend:
                                      If you pardon we will mend.
                                      Else the Puck a liar call,
                                      Give me your hands, if we be friends,
                                      And Robin shall restore amends.”




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