10 Must Go To Outdoor Theatres In Cornwall

James

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James

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If a Cornish summer vacation is on your bucket list, then you shouldn’t miss out on its outdoor theatres!

Whether you admire art or not, these theatres set against the backdrop of Cornwall’s scenic landscape won’t leave you disappointed. Besides, you shouldn’t miss out on an opportunity to experience the deep relationship between theatre and Cornwall, which has existed for thousands of years!

So, here are the top 10 outdoor theatres in Cornwall and a few tips to help you get the most out of your visit. Read on!

10 Must-Visit Outdoor Theatres In Cornwall

1. Trelissick Garden

The Trelissick Garden, located in Feock (near Turo), is a National Trust property comprising a picturesque garden and estate. But perhaps, much of its popularity can be credited to the outdoor theatre space with ample space for seating, overlooking River Hal in the vicinity.

In fact, it’s one of the most spectacular locations for an open-air theatre that you will find in Cornwall. As for the shows and events, Trelissick Garden hosts some of the most spectacular shows (including Shakespeare) from all around the country. Further, we’d advise taking your camping chairs, blankets, and food to get cosy as you treat yourself (and your loved ones) to spectacular performances.

2. Minack Theatre

Another open-air theatre (or amphitheatre, as most people would call it) is the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno beach, which is more than 9 decades old. It was the brainchild of Rowena Cade and her skilled gardener, Billy Rawlings. 

The structure was named after the Cornish word ‘Minack,’ which translates into a rocky or stony place, as is its construction. As such, it was constructed over a gully with a rocky granite protruding into the sea. 

The Minack Theatre has a rocky, tired seating structure overlooking a carved rock stage for all that vintage feels. So, you’d want to take a seat at the top tier for the best view of the performances, especially during the ‘season’ (Easter to September) when companies from all over the UK flock to this theatre.

3. Penlee Park Open-Air Theatre

The Penlee Theatre is situated in Penlee Park- the heart of the coastal town of Penzance, and it boasts a seating capacity of 300 people. And the Penlee Park open-air theatre has been hosting a variety of Cornish, national, and even international performances since the late 1940s.

You can enjoy an afternoon or evening performance of circus, bands, choirs, and musicals, depending on the schedule. Besides, the theatre is committed to contributing to a greener environment by regulating plastic use, as you will see in the conduct of the area.

4. Perran Round

As the name may have already told you, Perran Round is a circular open-air theatre and one of the best examples of a Plen-an-Gwary (playing place or mediaeval and round amphitheatre in Cornwall). Not only that, but this open theatre also holds historical significance for the county.

What was originally an enclosed farmstead during the Romano British (Iron Age) era was later converted into the Playing Place, which has been further developed to reach the structure today. And it became the location for the first-ever performance of the Miracle Theatre in the late 1970s.

Location-wise, the theatre can be a little difficult to find- you have to drive straight along the road from Goonhavern to Perranporth and locate a pink house on the northern side of the road. Just opposite the home is a lane, which houses the Perran Round.

A striking feature of this open-air theatre is the hollow pit with a tunnel leading in from the exterior of the performance area. This was called the ‘Devil’s Spoon,’ which was used as the entrance of Satan to the stage!

5. Carn Marth Amphitheatre

The Carnmarth hills, located to the southeast of Ruderth in Cornwall are known to be the highest point of the region. It’s only short of the highest point in all of Cornwall, aka Brown Willy, but offers breathtaking views all around Falmouth, St. Agnes Beacon, St. Austell, and Stithians lake.

Not only that, but it also has an open-air theatre built almost in the wild, almost giving you the impression that it has evolved naturally. Even the sitting area has grass-topped stone tiers, bringing award-winning plays to the audience.

6. Trebah Garden Amphitheatre

Perhaps, Trebah Garden is one of the most popular locations in Cornwall, especially among nature lovers. It’s essentially a historic estate property nestled in a protected valley close to the Helford river. 

At the very centre of this luscious garden lies the Trebah Garden amphitheatre with a designated stage, which was fitted into the space with a seating capacity of close to 300 people. 

This open theatre is a rather new addition to the amphitheatre scene of Cornwall, having been completed in only 2013. But since then, it has been home to a variety of performances, including live music, stand-up comedy shows, dance, puppetry shows, and of course, drama.

You may often find the stage setup of different shows extending beyond the stage and to the garden, providing a natural setting and background for the shows like nothing else.

7. Sterts Theatre And Arts Centre, Bodmin Moor

If you didn’t know this, then let us tell you that Bodmin Moor is one of the granite moorland in northeast Cornwall- a part of the Cornubian monolith. This location is popular for trekking, but it may be difficult to believe that it also has a completely accessible open-air theatre!

Enter the Sterts Theatre and Arts Centre, an artificially canopied pig farm turned into a theatre. The roof was a recent addition, though, making the theatre suitable for functioning all year long, no matter the weather, and without compromising on the authentic open-air feel.

This venture initially started out as a community project to encourage the participation of local youth in art activities. But today, it has crossed the threshold of local productions, hosting internationally renowned artists for drama and even comedy shows.

Moreover, you will find adequate visitor facilities for eating, using the restroom, and even wheelchair access. Talk about development!

8. Bedruthan Outdoor Theatre, Mawgan Porth

Unlike the other names on our list so far, the Bedruthan outdoor theatre isn’t a ‘dedicated’ space for performances, per se. And by this, we mean that the staging and seating area of this ‘theatre’ are amidst the natural setting of a cliff-top lawn.

Actually, the Bedruthan outdoor theatre is hosted and maintained by the family who owns the Bedruthan Hotel and Spa close to Mawgan Porth. This amphitheatre, with a jaw-dropping capacity of 400 people, is part of their summer activities when the hotel opens its cliff-top lawn for pop-up performances. 

Trust us- there are very few locations in Cornwall that can match the experience of witnessing the climax of a stage drama with the sun setting in the background.

9. The Island, St Ives

Talking about unusual locations, we just couldn’t have missed out on the Island, located centrally between the Porthmeor beach and its Harbour. It’s a pretty ‘wild’ highland theatre with natural grassland all around, which was earlier a safe zone for the local inhabitants during times of distress.

Today, it has become a spectacular outdoor theatre to many renowned plays, with the popular one being Shakespeare’s King Lear. However, it may be helpful to know that the ‘staging area’ (and consequently, the seats) is about a 5-minute uphill walk from the parking lot. So, you can contact the concerned authorities for wheelchair facilities in case of mobility issues.

10. Plen-an-Gwari, St Just-in-Penwith

Well, let’s just say that we aren’t over the beauty of Plen-an-Gwari, as this time, we have one from the Penwith region on the peninsula of the same name. This man-made circular outdoor theatre is almost synonymous with the ‘city-centre’ of this small, serene town, and it’s a testimony to Cornwall’s long-standing tradition of outdoor theatres.

The construction of this grass-enclosed theatre dates back to the mediaeval period, and it has played host to the oldest plays being performed in the UK only a couple of years back.

Which Are The Best Outdoor Theatre Companies Performing In Cornwall?

The best thing about Cornwall is that its outdoor theatres become home to different forms of art, with everything from concerts to musicals and other types of performances. However, if you’re particularly looking to indulge in the ‘theatre culture’ of the county, then are the top theatre companies you shouldn’t miss out on watching:

1. Miracle Theatre

Yes, you’ve guessed it right, the Miracle Theatre group has the ancient Cornwall miracle plays as inspiration for its name, and the company has been touring all over the country since 1979. Famous for its unique comic plays marked by a visually arresting style, Miracle Theatre has successfully brought the joy and vibe of big theatres in small places.

2. Rogue Theatre

Although Rouge Theatre is one of the lesser-known groups in Cornwall county, anyone who has seen it perform live can vouch for the immersive setup of its performances. 

For example, the group has made a considerable reputation for creating visually stunning setups among the trees in Tehidy Woods (or Tehidy Gardens). You may buy tickets for its daytime or evening performances for an enthralling experience.

3. WildWorks

WildWorks are quite the ‘custom’ group, as they are experts in designing production setups according to the site of their performance. Whether it’s a beach, castle, or garden, their setups blend seamlessly with the surroundings of the place, taking the audience on an emotional joyride through its performance within just a couple of hours.  

This particular theatre group has a pretty close association with Cornwall, and much of its work is inspired by the natural landscape and culture of the county. You may even spot their promenade performances during the ‘theatre season,’ which is just another testimony of the group’s skill and expertise in the craft. 

Some Things To Keep In Mind Before Visiting An Outdoor Theatre

The Cornish weather is unpredictable! And if you’re a first-time tourist, don’t be surprised to witness elements of all seasons in a span of 24 hours. But the good thing is unless the weather takes a wild turn, most outdoor theatre performances will go on as usual.

However, you can always stay prepared by carrying some essentials like umbrellas and waterproofs. 

Moreover, it’s always recommended to take some extra layers to stay warm when the sun goes down. Likewise, wear sunscreen and a hat for sun protection if you’re going for a day performance.

Some outdoor theatres, like the ones in gardens, may have a designated seating space but not physical seats per se. In such cases, you can carry folding chairs or cushions. Additionally, you can carry beverages and food, though most outdoor theatres have a café.   

We’d also suggest wearing comfortable shoes, as many performances may involve the audience walking from one spot to the other.

Final Words

Cornwall has a rich history of art and theatre, as is evident from the long list of outdoor theatres above. Even today, the admiration for this form of art in the countryside refuses to die down, with newer venues coming to the fore. 

You may just catch pop-up performances or full-blown theatre performances in places like the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project throughout the year. But no matter which venue you go to, make sure to do ample research to learn about the show timings and book your tickets in advance.

Besides, you should always abide by the rules and regulations of the venue, especially when it comes to cleanliness. 

With that, we will now say goodbye. See you another day! 

About The Author


James

Reviewed by

James

James is a writer who is a self-confessed kitchenware and coffee nerd and a strong advocate of Sundays, good butter, and warm sourdough.