The History of the Minack Theatre
The history of the Minack Theatre would only be complete with Rowena Cade. The theatre is the brainchild of this remarkable woman. Rowena dedicated her adult life to creating this unique masterpiece.
Born into a genteel Edwardian family in August 1893, Rowena’s Cheltenham upbringing took a turn with the outbreak of World War I. Her father’s death in 1917 was also a pivotal event. In the early 1920s, Rowena and her mother moved to Cornwall. Rowena bought the Minack headland for £100 and commissioned Minack House, which still stands today.
In 1929-30, Rowena designed costumes for open-air performances of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The following year, the group looked to put on The Tempest – Rowena offered her garden for the production. With no seating available in her garden, Rowena needed another plan. With the help of her gardener and another local man, she built a simple stage and rough seating into the granite of Minack Rock. This marked the birth of the Minack Theatre, a laborious process that took six months to complete using hand tools – and a little dynamite!
As the theatre grew in popularity, World War II broke out. A few long years later, the Army, the film Love Story, and the POWs who cleared the coastal defences had destroyed much of the theatre. Now in her 50s, Rowena had to start again from the bare bones. The theatre reopened in 1949. Rowena continued to work on the theatre until well into her 80s, carving each performance into the concrete seats. She died in 1983, shortly before her 90th birthday. In her lifetime, the theatre was transformed from a dramatic rock face to a small theatre to one of Cornwall’s biggest tourist attractions.