“I. I knew it from the photos I had seen online and I thought it looked pretty, but when you come in and see it yourself, it’s like, ‘Oh wow, this is crazy,’ ”says actor Guido García Lueches about the Theater Minack. “It is probably the best theater I have ever acted in.”
Carved largely by hand from a sheer granite cliff, the dizzying open-air venue on Cornwall’s south coast looks magnificent in the summer sun. Rows of subtropical foliage dot color throughout the landscape, and weathered concrete seats bearing the titles of past shows rise steeply from the stage. The ocean, 100 feet below, sports an attractive shade of green.
“When you are on stage, there is a wall of people in front of you, it feels like the audience is rising to the sky,” adds García Lueches. “I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming as an actor, but it makes you want to measure up. Sometimes you get distracted when you look at the sea around you while you change backstage. So you say, ‘No, shit, I have a scene to do, run, run’! “
C.Created by Rowena Wade in the early 1930s, the Minack is an awe-inspiring feat of landscaping. The basic setting and surrounding terraces were formed in six months, although Wade would spend the rest of his life continually improving and redesigning the site. An exhibition hall atop the cliff pays tribute to his work.
“He was remarkably out of his time and fiercely independent,” says Zoe Curnow, CEO of Minack. “Originally, she just wanted to create a performance space for The Tempest in 1932 in what was essentially her garden.
“The amazing thing is the amount of work he did in those early winters, but even in the late ’70s he was still turning things around. Right after a show, she was talking about getting the boys to come in from the mines to use dynamite to blow up pieces. I don’t think she sat down and thought, ‘I’m done.’
OROne of Minack’s planters, Claire Batten, describes the cliff garden as a “paradise.” Batten bravely climbs from terrace to terrace, pruning shears in hand, explaining how each little patch has a microclimate within a microclimate – “a bit like Russian dolls.” The temperature is 25 ° C and the plants are in their element.
“All the plants here are predominantly South African, South American and Mediterranean,” he says. “The soil is poor but rich in acids and drains freely, in addition to that we obtain high ultraviolet rays, little pollution and many reflections in the sea. So it’s the perfect storm for plants in those regions.
“My favorite plant right now is the red crassula coccinea, which is a vibrant succulent. We introduced a lot more color during the confinement and people seem to love it. “
B.On the Minack stage, the actors and musicians performing in The Winter’s Tale are reading for their next show. Her warm-up routine includes a sequence of tongue twisters and mouth exercises followed by a performance of Sweet Child O ‘Mine “to get all of us off to the right start,” says actress Lucy Crick. During the interval, she also rehearses a line dance routine, a fun feature of the show’s unorthodox second half.
However, Crick cautions that you can’t always prepare for what might happen during an outdoor live performance. “I have been overshadowed by a pod of dolphins here before. But it’s like with any open-air theater: you have to be spontaneous. There’s no way 700 people are going to ignore the 20 passing dolphins, so just bring it to the show. “
METER.Ark Harandon is a veteran artist in Minack and regularly portrays the character of Billy Rawlings, Wade’s gardening assistant, through whom he recounts the rich history of the place. He mimics Rawlings’ unusual Cornish accent, but comically avoids using the kind of expletives that Rawlings and Cade were well known for.
“Minack is a difficult place to play because it has so many quirks,” he says. “The stage has a reverse rake that leans away from the audience and the seats are much steeper than in a normal theater.
“I played here in 1984, before there was any sound reinforcement [microphones and speakers]. In those days, if the sea was big and the wind blew against you, you really had to project your voice.
“There is a special atmosphere here because it looks out over the ocean and Logan Rock. I always tell people, even if the play is not good, it is impressive anyway. “
W.hen the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted on July 19, Minack welcomed a house full of viewers for The Winter’s Tale. It marked the end of a miserable year for much of the theater industry. “Looking around and seeing this beautiful packed theater was quite moving,” says Helena Gullan, musician and actor.
“All my contracts from last year were completely canceled and financially it had a massive impact. I have been playing in the street and I have reeducated myself as a mixologist, but I always knew that I would return to the music and theater industry.
“It has been wonderful to have the appreciation of the audience, recognizing how difficult it has been for us and what we have been through.”
S.Under the purple haze of late-night stage lights, Adam Nichols reflects on the day’s performances. Nichols, the show’s co-director, who also played King Leontes, describes The Winter’s Tale as “a beast of work” because of its distinctive halves.
He and his cast interpret it with a twist: the first half follows a traditional and tragic narrative; the second erupts into a wild fusion of dance, comedy and music, with tunes from artists like Bille Eilish and Whitney Houston.
“I love seeing people in the audience watching a Shakespeare play and who normally wouldn’t,” he says. “With the open-air theater there are many people who are not fond of the theater, especially here, because it is a tourist attraction. If you can connect them to things that they recognize, which is exactly what Shakespeare did, that really helps. “
Glancing at the climb back to the starting gates, he adds: “It takes a long time to get down from the top of a show, so I don’t feel exhausted yet. But I’m not looking forward to those steps! “