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Such stuff as dreams are made on

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: September 20, 2012

  • Scene from The Tempest at Minack Theatre in 1932.

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AS THE curtains close on another Minack season this weekend, the legendary theatre will have passed another milestone.

It was 80 years ago that Rowena Cade first put on a show on the cliffs at the Minack.

In 1932, it was The Tempest and hundreds of people came to be enchanted by the atmosphere and spectacular location.

Decades later and at its heart, the Minack still runs under the same principles that its founder saw in her vision, said manager Phil Jackson.

"It obviously has changed a lot," he said. "In the early days, they only did one to two shows of a summer and it was very much Rowena doing it with a group of friends."

One person who remembers the early days as the start of a lifelong love affair with the theatre is Betty Rickarby Bell, who lives in Treen.

In 1929, a local village group of players staged Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in Crean and at the age of just 3, Mrs Rickarby Bell went with her grandfather.

Then, when she was aged 6 in 1932, she saw The Tempest.

"I think it is marvellous and, of course, Rowena Cade was an incredible person. When people from away hear a woman built it, they think it was money that built it but she did it with her own hands," said Mrs Rickarby Bell.

"I think that was what made us theatregoers.

"I always say to people, 'Even if you don't care for the play, you will love the theatre'."

Miss Cade moved to Cornwall after the First World War and bought the headland at Minack for £100. There she built a house for herself and her mother using granite from a St Levan quarry.

Miss Cade started her theatre in 1931 after the success of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Up until she died in 1983, she was the main determined driving force behind the theatre, building much of it by hand with the help of her gardener Billy Rawlings.

Mrs Rickarby Bell said she had never "trodden the boards" at the Minack but she did hand out the programmes in 1937 at a production of Anthony And Cleopatra.

She said: "When I think what pleasure it has given to a vast quantity of people, I'm sorry that more really local people don't go.

"I love it and I have still got the enthusiasm – frequently these days I will go to a matinee and I get there nice and early to soak up the ambience."

Around 80,000 people see a show at the Minack each year while more than 100,000 visit just to see the place.

Mr Jackson puts its continued success down to the theatre's uniqueness.

He said: "They are coming here and getting a visceral piece of theatre in a great setting with a lovely atmosphere."

Mrs Rickarby Bell, who was a primary teacher and head teacher in Cyprus, Singapore and Exeter, will see her ninth production this year at the Minack this week. Ruddigore is showing tonight and tomorrow at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm. Proms at the Minack is on this Saturday and Sunday but tickets are sold out.

Contact the Minack box office on 01736 810181/810471 or online at www.minack.com

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