276. A loo with a view…


First run through…

“So, have you been to the Minack before?” I ask, when we have a lull in the programme selling.

“Oh yes, lots of times! A few years ago, we did The Producers. As we were bringing in the props – crates of swastikas and Nazi banners and so on, we passed a party of German tourists.” FellowProgrammeSeller grimaces a little. “It was all a bit awkward, really. Would you like a programme?”

The YoungChap just trying to scoot past us pleads a lack of change – just a twenty pound note. But the woman in charge of programme sales has provided us a with bag of change specifically for people who turn up with twenty pound notes: she’s done this before and the YoungChap never stood a chance.

About ten minutes to go now and from where we are standing, right at the top of the terraces, the house seems pretty full. So that’s, oh – some seven hundred people waiting to see the opening night of Wolf Hall.

It’s a really beautiful evening;  half an hour to sunset and, on the horizon, the sails of a yacht are glowing golden.

FellowProgrammeSeller tells me that he was in a production a few years ago when the Fastnet boat race went past, behind them. Not only that, but it was a year when some of the yachts got into trouble due to bad weather and a rescue was going on. “We were well and truly upstaged,” he said.

ActorLaddie has already been warned that the audience might be distracted by the appearance of leaping dolphins which, let’s face it, would trump any concentration on Henry VIII’s marriage problems. But as it happens, neither yachts nor dolphins appear tonight and the first half goes very smoothly.

In the break, I hand in my programme selling paraphernalia, queue up for an ice-cream and get into conversation with the man behind me about the theatre. He’s a regular, it turns out, and loves the place. “It just shows you what one person with a vision can do, doesn’t it? A lesson for us all.”

Absolutely, I agree, and hope he doesn’t ask me to elaborate as, in truth, I’m still at the stage of being awe-struck at the beauty of the place. I haven’t thought at all about how the theatre actually started. If anything, I’d assumed that the woman who’d owned the site had a “hey kids, let’s do the show right here” moment – and then got the builders in. I resolve to look her up before my next programme selling stint.

Glory, what an amazing cove was Rowena Cade! As I guess you already know, but I didn’t, back in 1931, she had the idea that her cliff top garden would be the perfect setting for a performance of The Tempest. So she started heaving stones and mixing concrete and, with just the help of her gardener, she carved out the theatre in which, in the summer of 1932, her local Amateur Dramatic Society put on The Tempest. From the look of her, I’d not be at all surprised if she didn’t combine this with a little light detective work.

For the rest of her long life – she died in 1983 just short of ninety – she developed and improved her Theatre. There’s a short BBC item about Rowena Cade here.

The Minack is now owned by a charitable trust who, over the winter, revamped the dressing rooms and very nice they are too.

Lucky is the actor who gets to make-up in front of that sea-view. And how about this for a loo with a view?

Four more performances to go now, then it’s back home and ActorLaddie starts working on The Seagull. Queueing for the auditions has already started.

There are some really fabulous photos of the production of Wolf Hall on the Minack Theatre website. Enjoy.

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