The Minack Theatre: Cornwall

The Minack Theatre: Cornwall's world-famous gem

Kate Atkin 22 March 2023

Cornwall’s Minack Theatre is celebrated for its amazing productions of classic and contemporary plays and the sheer atmosphere that its dramatic location creates.

Carved into the cliffs and overlooking the spectacular panorama of Porthcurno Bay in Penzance, the world-famous amphitheatre has attracted theatregoers in large numbers since its creation – and looks set to continue to do so for many more years to come.

Located just 4 miles from Land’s End and nestled within glorious gardens, the theatre is often one of the primary reasons for people to visit the area and is regarded by many as one of the best attractions in Cornwall. Discover the extraordinary story of how it was created and the kind of live performances that you can expect to see, with our guide to the Minack Theatre in Cornwall.

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The history of the Minack Theatre

The stage at the Minack Theatre

With such a grand structure that looks as though it has been set into the coastal rocks for centuries, many people imagine the Minack Theatre to have been created thousands of years ago. In reality, it came about much more recently, with the first production taking place at this location in 1932.

The theatre was first conceived by Rowena Cade, who moved to Cornwall with her mother after the First World War, buying the headland for £100. Upon Minack Point, she built their home, which you can still see today.

After becoming involved with the local village theatre company, she offered her cliffside garden as a stage to perform The Tempest. Many have noted the appropriate nature of this first performance as it is not only renowned as a Shakespeare play, but the nature of the open-air theatre makes it the perfect setting for a play that celebrates nature and the power of the untameable sea.

Carvings on the seats at the Minack Theatre

With the help of her loyal gardener Billy Rawlings, she began crafting a theatre from the rocks during the winter of 1931. They used only basic hand tools and cement created from the sand that Rowena lugged up from the beaches below.

By the summer of 1932, an incredible terraced amphitheatre had been formed, ready for an eagerly awaiting audience. Rowena made some of the costumes for the first performance and only batteries and car headlights lit the stage.

During the Second World War, the theatre was given over to the army, who used it as a lookout post. And when the war was over, Rowena continued to build the theatre, converting the gun post into a new box office! It become her life’s work and the theatre evolved into the architectural masterpiece that we see today. 

You can find all the details about the Minack Theatre story in its fascinating on-site exhibition.

Shows at the Minack Theatre

The Minack Theatre on a sunny day

Hosting over 200 shows a year, this magnificent open-air theatre always has something exciting to look forward to. Shakespeare’s plays have had a significant presence at the Minack, particularly because Rowena, who died in 1983, had a great admiration for his work – and these classics have provided a central focus for each season.

Alongside these productions, performances of comedy, opera, mime, ballet and many more genres are regularly enjoyed on the stage. Plus, if you’re looking for days out for kids in Cornwall, then you’ll be pleased to hear that the theatre also features a great selection of storytelling shows, too.

Iconic performers at the Minack Theatre

Man admiring the views over the beach below

While the venue supports new and upcoming theatre groups, there have also been several well-known names to grace the Minack stage. Welsh pop and opera singer Charlotte Church, prominent author Will Self and Midsomer Murders star John Nettles have all performed here.

Popular singer KT Tunstall also debuted her single ‘Carried’ against the stunning backdrop of the Minack Theatre in May 2013.

The beautiful Minack gardens

Montage of flowers in the Minack gardens

Another highlight of this glorious Cornwall theatre, Minack boasts 1.5 acres of subtropical gardens. This floral paradise has something to see all year round; it’s a living tapestry of colourful blooms, woven through winding paths and rock walls. 

Heavily influenced by South African, Mediterranean and South American flora, the gardens at Minack are open throughout the year, and entrance is included in the ticket price for Minack Theatre performances.

You can even book a guided garden tour and gain some fascinating insights from the head gardeners. And if you fancy adding a touch of the Minack to your garden, many of the plants are raised from seed and some are available to buy in the gift shop near the entrance of the theatre.

Food and drink at the Minack Theatre

Cream tea at the Minack Theatre

If you like your cream tea with a dramatic view, there’s no better place than Minack’s cliff-perching café. Boasting breathtaking panoramas of jagged cliffs, pretty coves lapped by turquoise waters, and pods of dolphins in the surf, it’s the perfect place to enjoy some delicious home-cooked food.

On a sunny day, you can sit out on the terrace, but there’s plenty of seating inside if you need to escape a downpour on a rainy day. The café serves a variety of tasty snacks and light refreshments throughout the day, and is only open to those who have paid to enter the theatre.

The Minack Theatre FAQs

The Minack Theatre is a registered charity and operates on a ticketed basis, meaning that there is an entry fee and prices may vary depending on the event or performance.

The revenue generated from ticket sales helps to maintain and preserve the theatre and its enchanting gardens, ensuring that it remains a destination for generations to come.

Please check the website for the most up-to-date visitor information.

The show will go on! Many performances will continue if it rains, but it does depend on the severity of the weather conditions and the particular show.

Due to the theatre’s open-air design, we advise checking the weather forecast before you attend and coming prepared with waterproofs. Please note, umbrellas are not permitted during a performance, in consideration of other audience members.

Yes, visitors are welcome to walk around the Minack Theatre and explore its surroundings. Be aware that as it is a working theatre, there may be times when you cannot access the stage and some parts of the auditorium.

The Minack is open daily for visitors to look around the theatre throughout the open season, which runs from April to September each year.

Dogs are welcome on short leads during visiting hours, but only guide dogs will be admitted to performances.

Read our dog-friendly guide to Cornwall for more tail-wagging days out in the local area.

Free parking is available at the Minack Theatre car park for those attending a performance or just paying a visit. Spaces can be limited, so it is advisable to arrive early.

The postcode for SatNavs is TR19 6JU.

The whole site is steep and includes many steps, which can become slippery in wet weather. There is access for wheelchairs and disabled visitors to the top levels, however, due to the terrain, there is no disabled access to the stage or the lower levels of the auditorium. 

Prams, buggies and car seats are not permitted in the theatre.

Tickets for performances can be booked in person Monday to Friday 10am-4pm at the theatre itself, by telephone on 01736 810181 during the same hours, and online at any time. For more information, see their website.

Book a stay near the Minack Theatre in Cornwall

If you fancy taking in a show at the Minack Theatre, why not treat yourself to somewhere warm and cosy to stay nearby?

We’ve got a great selection of holiday cottages near the Minack Theatre, including romantic retreats for two and big boltholes for the whole family. Click the button below to have a browse.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.

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