Minack Memories | The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Minack Memories

A Performance by Central students at the Minack Theatre

Over the last 20 years, hundreds of Central Drama, Applied Theatre and Education, BA (BA DATE) alumni have enjoyed the magic of Minack. Below you will find a selection of photos and memories spanning those years and we hope you'll see some names and faces you recognise!

If you have photos and stories of your own that you would like to share, please contact the Alumni Office at alumni@cssd.ac.uk.

View old pictures of Minack 


Sally Mackey, Professor of Applied Theatre and Performance and former Head of BA (Hons) Drama and Education

After besieging Phil Jackson (Minack Theatre Manager) to accept Central at the Minack in 1994 (and to return!) and leading the degree and Minack project for the following 15 years, it is with some emotion – and amazement - that I help celebrate our 20th production in this most inspiring theatre. Reflecting back, what makes me feel proud of this artistic exodus to Cornwall? So much. - ‘family’ shows of quality - sustained commitment to our host county through developing associated workshops and residencies - the gestation of connected projects (e.g. in Kent, through two alumni of Central/Minack) - creative devising processes for our students – opportunities for specialist input from undergraduate and postgraduates across Central  – a collage of powerful memories for students.

So, what of my own key memories? – the joy of working with creative colleagues (e.g. Chris Elwell, James Peries, Amanda Stuart Fisher, Steve Farrier) – standing in to play a squid (!) in Beowulf one night in 2001 – major aesthetic challenges in directing – seeing the first under-5 show on tour – succeeding with The Head of Snakes, our first production in 1994, on a budget of £1000! – role-playing a Queen Bee in a residency at Nancealverne School – the timing of a school of dolphins during Amanda’s Myth Breakers – so many ‘production’ moments of real intensity. My favoured and most salutary memory, however? A primary school teacher at a workshop, quite pragmatically telling me Central’s Minack show was the children’s only external arts experience and provided material for youngsters throughout the year. Thank you, Minack!

Keith Orton, Designer

I have been lucky enough to have been associated with the Minack Project in some form or another for the past 15 years. I began designing the shows whilst in my capacity of design tutor for two of the undergraduate courses at Central. This gave me the opportunity to help expand the student experience to bring together students that are training in specific theatre disciplines with those studying Drama and Applied Theatre to share the chance to work in this amazing theatre.

On a personal note I have been the envy of many of my professional designer friends as they would love to get even a single chance to design for the Minack, and I have had done it several times. It is always a challenge, and over the years I have learnt to trust the power of the space. With its unique structure and vista, you have to be careful how and where you add scenery to the space. Central's productions always have a large cast and a history of large puppets that can work brilliantly, but always push the limit of the budget.

I feel that the Minack has etched a lasting place in my heart and I always relish the opportunity to return. So it is great to be part of the Central's 20th year, not sure I can do another 20, but I will give it a jolly good go!

Richard Delight, Production Manager

I remember the Minack for the setting, the camaraderie and the challenge.  In the words of Adam Coshan  ‘It’s a marathon not a sprint’.  It is one of the hardest performance spaces I have ever had the pleasure of working in, but it is also one of the most rewarding.  You are up against all the elements, as well as a gruelling endurance test of endless steps, late nights and early mornings.  Yet in the embodiment of what theatre at is best can produce everybody pitches in and works together.  A true social organism.

I could relate countless tales, but moments that spring to mind are: Mal doing the cowboy in those shorts during warm ups; Adam and I carrying an unfortunate performer up the steps to the Air Ambulance during The Odyssey after her foot was run over by a boat bearing most of that years cast.  She was playing her flute at the time and never missed a note; The torrential storm during Merlin’s Child: The Return that nearly killed Lucy Baxter and that ‘broke the Minack’ as an enormous boulder at the top of the auditorium came loose in the deluge.  I think that is the only time I have ever know Phil Jackson to close the theatre; The Breakdance Friezes that the cast of Beowulf kept pulling resulting in strange injuries from flung weapons and appendages; Lying on my back in a field on the way back to the Vineries looking at the whole of the Milky Way filling the sky; The exploding pasty in the cabaret at the Cable Station.

Mike Bell, Head of Craft

Most of the students I work with start off in one place, and then by the end of the whole project down at the Minack they have grown up and become much more mature in their attitude. They also have more understanding of the theatre as a whole teamwork experience. It's not just the actor on stage, it’s much more about everyone helping at each stage and the one thing that makes me want to do this project is seeing that change.

Fay Page (BA DE 1996)

I was lucky enough to be in the first year to perform at the Minack with ‘Head of Snakes’ 20 years ago (although naturally none of us look any older!) It still seems like only yesterday that we pitched up in an assortment of vehicles, rammed full of provisions, to be greeted by the most beautiful granite theatre in an extraordinary setting. My lasting memory is of wearing long johns underneath a toga in the evenings whilst been slathered in factor 50 in the daytime shows – such a place of contrasts! I now live across the water from the Minack, in the Isles of Scilly. Whenever I go past on the ship or in the plane I feel a nostalgic twang for that first toga-clad Central show. Happy days indeed.

Mal Smith (BA DE 1996)

I don’t know where to start… probably the beginning. A production meeting for the first Minack show ‘Head of Snakes’ and a young (ish) man who started to get excited about getting out of London and back to the sea. Discussions about Welfare State and how to make big puppets and feeling a bit smug that I knew them. Wondering where Danae would find a ‘baby army of soldiers’ and what use they would be anyway. From then on, so many memories. That first view as we walked over the top of the auditorium, rehearsing on a piece of Cornwall that no longer exists, a VERY short costume. And then returning year after year. Making new friends from new cohorts, the ‘prehistoric animal brigade’ (thanks James), distracting a company of knights and druids with a bare bum, breathtaking epic moments, early morning swims with sharks and seals, discussing with Sally why all male heroes are apparently idiots who can’t succeed without a woman to help them, touring Cornish schools with the first TIE project (thanks Chris Elwell), ridiculous staff cabarets put together by a range of drunken fools, the ‘Mackey’ fader on the sound desk which was plugged into nothing at all but served the singular purpose of convincing Sally that she could hear things more clearly when it was moved, chaotic get – ins and tearful get outs, breaking an AA recovery lorry with an over heavy tour truck, seeing clearly once ‘Lorraine had gone’, loving and laughing and escaping. And a pair of shorts that just wouldn’t quit. Minack didn’t just inspire me – for my Central life, it defined me.

Faye Tilbury (BA DE 1996)

I have tears in my eyes as I read these beautiful, moving, funny recollections of being at The Minack.  When I think about being part of the first group of students to go there, a ridiculous 20 years ago, I get an overwhelming  squiggly feeling in my tummy. It’s at those moments it feels like being at The Minack was just yesterday.   I carry a huge sense of pride at having been part of the start of a magnificent 20 year journey. When I have students lucky enough to be accepted onto the DATE course at Central, and there have been a few, it’s The Minack project that I tell them will be one of the best things they will ever experience. As for memories...burnt foreheads, long johns underneath togas, volunteering to wash the costumes and being up until the early hours of the morning doing it (they only got washed once I think!), us blondies putting lemon juice in our hair to make the most of the sun’s rays and the smell of dusk as the auditorium filled up with an expectant crowd. But my funniest memory is the vision of Sally, Chris Elwell and I think Simon Cooper sitting on those giant steps, draped in blankets and drinking flasks of hot coffee, under an umbrella,  while we ran the show in togas, pre-long johns, in the rain and bitterly cold winds wondering what on earth we were doing there!  Jill Cripps and I re-wrote one of ‘The Head Of Snakes’ songs and performed it at the end of run cabaret.  I’m going up into my loft this weekend to look in my ‘Central’ box to try and find it – it’ll all come flooding back then!   I tell my 3 beautiful children, Oli, Charlotte and Imogen about a beautiful theatre carved into cliffs that Mummy performed in. One day I will take them there.

Eddie Latter (BA DE 1997)

I couldn’t say a word. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the beauty, the magnificence, the landscape and the scenery. I just couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to be performing there. It was absolutely one of the best weeks of my life.

Shaun Canon (BA DE 1997) 

The 'grand finale' scene of Merlin's Child: The Legend of King Arthur needed considerable rehearsal once on location. I always remember the moment when Arthur (Gordon McIntyre) finally rid himself of the evil Morgana and the traitorous knights. I was so used to it taking a long time to plot and re-plot, that I set a cup of coffee under the dias. There is a  picture showing me drinking said coffee (when supposedly dead) and Eddie Latter sitting in front of me trying to contain his laughter, because I'm muttering under my breath "Oh for heavens sake hurry up and die...

Liam Cunningham (BA DE 1998)

There are sometimes definitive moments in a life where an important epoch of change takes place internally while standing very close to a part of nature that covers our senses with living beauty and simultaneously links us with other worldly connections - helping us walk beside the stars for a moment, reminding us again of who we really might be. I remember such a moment at Minack I was dressed as half a lobster, a garment recently cast off by the now famous Gok Wan. Sally had asked me to take up the challenge: she knew being half a puppet was difficult for my fragile changing ego. Prior to Central I had spent seven years training as a catholic priest, a councillor in prisons, hospital chaplain, parish leader. Now, here I was standing half fish, half man looking out at the most amazing sunset from a stage carved from the mixed quartz granite Cornish cliff stones themselves. I often look now at pictures of the Minack and remember somewhere in its elemental life, our London theatre school muses and the muses of Minack danced together and through some  harmonious contract and pathway  we entered into the senses of all those who came to watch - and remain there, always part of the history of the stones now. I did not appreciate fully then, but do now, the wonder and resonance of theatre-making  in such a high vibrational environment where human art making and the natural world  fuse dramatically together. "If Stones Could speak then the Minack stage would surely tell of 20 years of Central’s lives at play aside themselves." Thank you for the experience and opportunity of being part of this profound aesthetic venture.

Chris Port (BA DE 1999)

I had some fun (if freezing) times at the Minack, performing in Jason and the Argonauts. One moment it's easy to imagine you're in Ancient Greece. Then, when an Atlantic squall hits, it's easy to imagine you're drowning on land in some Arctic convoy of the Arts. I once sat in the audience through an excellent first act of Arabian Nights there. I couldn't see or hear it due to the amount of ocean in my eyes and hurricane in my ears. But I knew there were actors out there, somewhere, lightly clad in billowing silk, perched atop exciting scaffolding. I turned to my course leader sat next to me and said I was going to the pub. She gave me a look somewhere between contempt and envy. Within 15 minutes the pub was full of drenched dramaturgs. Still, it's the only British theatre where you can be upstaged by dolphins.

Lucy Baxter (BA DE 1999)  

So many happy, happy days at Minack. Such intense weeks; such laughter; such hard bloody work; such a lot of beer; so many giggle-inducing, gravel-crunching, damp Vineries' nights; such a lot of suncream; such a lot of rain; such stunning improvisation when things went wrong. I remember the lights going out during the last few minutes of Jabberwocky and lighting the cast with hand held torches.  I remember how divine the Greek Gods looked standing still as statues on the wall as the sun set behind them.  I remember the cabarets SO well (still have the scripts). I remember Sally asking if she could 'have a word' one morning and me thinking I'd committed some drunken faux pas when in fact it was an invitation to go on in place of a sunstroke suffering student Mouse in The Quest. I remember trying desperately to learn my mousey words on the back path whilst trying to quash a hangover from hell. On stage I remember feeling my Mousey trousers starting to fall down during the middle of a (largely improvised) Mousey speech and the feel of soft cotton gathering at my ankles as I revealed my (non-mousey) pants to one and all. I remember utterly unprofessional (squeak, squeak) behaviour of some Minack backstage crew displaying mousey parts in order to put off actors on stage.  I remember wondering how anyone's legs could get as brown as Anne's. I remember certain Vineries chalets being cleared of furniture altogether as a post-Cable Station prank. I remember spending hours cajouling a student not to return to London but to go back onstage the next day.  I remember Marie-Jamilla swearing under her breath as her cheesecloth came into contact with the puddle into which she was lowering herself beautifully.   I remember turning my mobile phone on between scenes waiting for a call from John whose submarine was due to surface in the Adriatic some time around my birthday during Minack week. I remember thinking that perhaps I should have listened to Sally and put an extra warrior-like layer on when it had begun to rain in Act 1 scene 1 of Merlin's Child, and not waited until Act 5 scene 4 for non-fictional hypothermia to bring a certain realism to a damp death. I remember the phone ringing at Smoker's Corner on my birthday and crying on hearing John's voice.  I remember watching a falcon hover and dive outside the downstairs window of the dressing room. I remember countless casts being upstaged by a pigeon called Percy. I remember with some satisfaction, as a lady passed by my pre-show portrayal of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, her muttering: 'Christ, she's terrifying'. In 1999, I remember bumping into Jon Canning in the Minack car park; we had both come down to watch the lunar eclipse. I remember the excitement of the Minack's new cafe opening, I remember Mal's shorts. I remember the squeals of delight from the school children; their tears and their wide eyes as they met the character and puppets post-show.  In Life of Pi, I  remember climbing down the cliff to rescue a stuffed rat tossed by a tiger into the Atlantic. I remember giggling uncontrollably with Ellie Smith as we skipped nervously down the circle trying desperately but failing miserably to get the timing of the walk right in our Jason ship. I remember Amy's care, attention, love and laughter as Queen of the Dressing Room. I remember a show being upstaged by a plane first circling the stage then crashing into the field above the theatre.  In '97, I remember hearing Ellen's now immortal plea: 'We must leave this terrible island!'. And who amongst us can (or would want to) forget Eddie's inspiring directorial advice: You're all rubbish.' And these are just some that I remember. Happy, happy days.

Matt Connor-Hemming (BA DE 1999) 

Minack was such a wonderful experience and, having been part of four shows during the 20 years (Jason, Pirate Quest!, Jabberwocky and Merlin's Child) have so many wonderful memories, both on and off stage. I have developed a love of West Cornwall as a direct result of taking part in the Minack shows and Porthcurno will always be one of my favourite places in the world.

Alex Howe (BA DE 1999)

The year I went to Minack, it rained; and then it rained some more; and then it thundered a bit; and then a show was cancelled, in case the audience got swept into the sea. Meanwhile, we celebrated escaping 'death by thunderstorm' in the pub. Aside from wearing cheese cloth and having to lay down and die on a swimming pool of a stage, The Minack was a truly awesome experience. Such a beautiful theatre - there's nothing quite like it - especially when it's sunny.

Louisa Connolly (nee Willicott) (BA DE 2000)

The Minack has a soul of its very own; you feel like a very tiny part of something so huge and special when you are there. Breath-taking. Three incredible years at Minack remain a significant reference point for my work today. The time spent there and the projects undertaken are ever-present, somewhere in my subconscious, enabling me to transfer so many versatile skills and drive forward with the work ethos that has become second nature as a result of these experiences. Nothing can measure up to the feeling you get when you are singing a James Peries number accompanied by choreography by Sally Mackey. The Pirate sister kick goes down in history as one of the greatest pieces of dance fusion known to mankind.

Final random thoughts...

Mal’s short shorts; Corpsing pirates (Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest...); Coming back to The Vinaries to discover our entire lounge had been moved and re-assembled so precisely on the lawn outside; Rob Brabin’s pancakes (not a euphamism!); Spice Girl cabaret; Ensemble with dolphins; Muskets and Guns; Velda taking me to the Drs (...love Velda); Flashers Good, good times.

Siobhan Willmore (nee Cheadle) (BA DE 2000) 

I have so many fond memories of the Minack Theatre. The first year was one of the most rewarding and exciting weeks I have ever had. Performing 'Muskets and Guns', beautiful weather, basking sharks in the sea, a little boy called Dan from St Levan's school who welcomed us at the Vineries, singing 'I like the flowers', which I've been singing in my drama lessons to young children ever since, having lots of our furniture removed by lovely third years whilst staying in the cottage including my mattress! It's a time I will never forget and I plan to take my husband and children there next year.

Lorna Rees (BA DE 2001) 

I performed in various guises at the Minack for all three years of my course - and I absolutely loved it. I first went there with 'Beware The Jabberwocky'. My now husband Adam Coshan (BA DE 1998) was there with the 'Land of the Forgotten Tide' and he also worked on several Central shows. My beautiful friend Sarah Wingrove and I used to get VERY excited about driving up to The Minack and seeing the new first year's Central show. It was our  pilgrimage to the place which held such wonderful memories of our course. We would wake up at 3 in the morning from her wonderful parent's place in Barking and drive all the way to Cornwall to see in the morning. In 2004, Adam was working as part of the technical team on that year's show, and Sarah and I had driven up especially early. We arrived at the Vineries where the company stay and said hello to the crew. I think some kind of European football Cup was on television and due to excessive over-excitement I promptly fell asleep on the sofa... as it turns out slumped on Adam (who incidentally put a chicken and thyme crisp down my top). We had a few enjoyable chats over those magical Minack days. As he left Cornwall he handed me his number, "give me a call when you're in Bournemouth...." and a few weeks later, well, I did.The 'Minack term' at Central is an intensely special and unique event. I had some incredible days and evenings in my three years of Central in Cornwall: Karaoke at the Cable Station, stumbling home to the Vineries, trying to locate Hannah Phillip's lost ring (I still look even now), epic declarations of love on Porthcurno beach for Jemma, swimming for hours, playing the Dambusters on the kazoo whilst walking in a flying formation down Penzance high street, Ben and I lighting the fire bins on the rocks at the end of Beowulf. The Mercury House flats were host to the most epic third year cocktail party that there ever was - I'm sorry, no one else's can have ever come close. We made Bruce Wooding fall into a bush. Much love - to The Minack and to Central.

Liz Lamming - (BA DE 2001)

My husband Phil planned his proposal around my favourite place, The Minack Theatre, which I had first visited with the DE 2001 students in 1999 for our performance of ‘Beware the Jabberwocky’. As anyone who has performed at or visited the Minack will know, it is such a truly magical place and represents a very happy time.

Phil planned the surprised trip for August 2006, when Central would be performing ‘Merlin's Child’, a show I had originally been part of, as he felt it would also bring back happy memories and would be an opportunity to catch up with old faces (which it was!). We had been staying with his brother Dave in St. Agnes so not far away and I had no idea we would be going to the Minack that day. As we got closer I questioned where we were going and he told me we were going to Porthcurno beach and would I like to go to the Minack Museum? I said yes and told he I actually thought Central were performing this week, but we were unlikely to be able to get tickets (little did I know he's bought them months ago!). He left me at the top of the Minack steps and then said he had forgotten something from the car so ran back to get "it". The "it" was my engagement ring! He said would I like to go down on the stage and we did, then he got down on one knee and produced the ring! I was totally shocked. We went and sat round the back of the stage and enjoyed the view, and several other visitors who had watched the proposal came and congratulated us.

That night we did indeed watch ‘Merlin's Child’ and I did get to catch up with old friends. I love our engagement because it showed how well my wonderful husband knew me and this is why the Minack importance to me has only grown stronger.

Jonathan Canning (BA DE 1997) 

My favourite Minack memory would be standing atop the cliff looking out over the theatre to the sea dressed up as Lancelot, with the wind ruffling my cape, sword in hand, about to enter the scene, kill all the baddies, steal the queen, and  then die a noble death helping the king. What a role, what a place!

Hannah Charlton, nee Weston (BA DATE 2003)

The minute you arrive to start your course everyone kept going on about Minack. You wonder if it is as amazing as they make out or just drama students getting over excited! They weren't, as everyone has already said and will continue to for many years it is breathtaking. I am sure we could all argue that our show was the best but singing Beowulf's Lament, at night time with the fire bins being lit, was one of those moments you can't forget and makes you realise why you love the subject you are training in. Memories are many but to recall a few, making Sally dress as a Queen Bumblebee on your Arts Residency at Nancealverne, knowing that some people who shall remain nameless stuck jelly babies inside the Dane and Geat shields during the craft process! Eating proper pasties, breathing fresh air when outside of London, singing on the beach when we probably weren't meant to be there, road trips in Molly Metro and never really knowing what Grendel was actually supposed to be! It is a place where friendships were founded, laughs were many and life lessons were learned, all with a stunning backdrop.  Family have been dragged there since and fallen in love with it and all students taught have been told they have to visit to experience it; as there is no place better to experience theatre.

Gemma Dilley (BA DE 2004)  

My first 'Minack Memory' took place before even starting at Central, it was seeing the photos of the  performances at the Minack Theatre that drew me to the DE course. I remember thinking 'I need to do that.' The year we performed at the Minack it rained the whole way to Cornwall and our car of students spent most of the time moaning and wondering how on earth we were going to pull this off in such adverse weather. We needn't of worried because the magic of Minack shone down on us that day and as we arrived at the theatre the rain stopped. As we stepped from the car park to the theatre for the first time the sun shone down on us. It revealed a place that felt so magical it almost took my breath away to look at it. This was what I had come to Central to experience and it was even better in real life than the photos in the prospectus had made it seem. I have the fondest memories of our week performing 'The Rat Catcher of Hamelin' at the Minack and cannot wait to share the 'Minack Magic' with my children when they are old enough.

Batsy Grunberg (BA DATE 2005) 

One of the most magical places in the world, the stage/landscape of The Minack has a presence all of its own. Where the players and audience combined are treated to a cathartic experience. As though the place itself holds a memory of each performance throughout the years which you are entered into.

Rodrigo Sánchez (BA DATE 2007) 

I will always be grateful for the unique opportunity to perform at the Minack. Such a different way of performing, where those on stage have to address the audience looking up and as far back to the top of the cliff! Even conversations between characters have to be upwards and facing the audience right at the very back. The last night was just as memorable for the Cabaret, where I performed my various impersonations of Central lecturers and fellow classmates! Perfect payback for all the long hours of rehearsals under the sun!

Ross Bolwell-Williams (BA DATE 2008) 

The last show took place on Friday evening;  families had arrived, the theatre was packed, the sun was setting and so was our Minack experience. During the last show, the audience became quite expressive and animated with their 'ooooohhhhs' and 'arrrrrrrrrrs' during quite a tame part of the story (...we thought we must be good and if they liked this they'd go crazy for our boat song!). Meeting up with families and friends after the show it turns out we were upstaged by migrating basking sharks and back flipping dolphins....a hard act to beat by anyone's standards.

Sally Munday (BA DATE 2009) 

Our Performance of The Grimm’s Tales at the Minack Theatre in 2007 was the highlight of my degree for many reasons. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, we got to perform in the most beautiful theatre in the country (if not the world!) and we got to know our fellow course mates (and lecturers!). The pub and the Vineries accommodation provided the backdrop for so much laughter. Another highlight has to be that during the trip to Minack I really started to get to know the tall ginger bloke in the year above, who I happen to marrying later this year!

Sarah Harland (Newbold) (BA DATE 2009) 

I was lucky enough to go to Minack 3 years running - performing in The Grimm’s Tales in 2007, providing Pre and Post-Performance workshops for Life of Pi and then helping out on Zorba the Greek. I  have to say it is one of the most wonderful places I have ever visited! Even though the years above tell you about how magical it is, nothing can quite prepare you for that moment when you first set eyes on it. It was at The Minack, through laughter, hard-work and cable station drinking, where life-long friends were made, a husband was found and subsequent holidays were centred around. Minack was an experience I will never forget.

Sean Doran (BA DATE 2013) 

The atmosphere, buzz and weather will never be experienced anywhere else but Minack.

Michael Dennehy (BA DATE 2014) 

The Minack tour is one of the most wonderful experiences I've ever had, it's just great. The theatre is magical!

Nathan Rumney (BA DATE 2014) 

The only theatre on earth where you have to out-perform the scenery, it’s a beautiful theatre and there is nowhere like it in the world.

If you have photos and stories of your own that you would like to share, please contact alumni@cssd.ac.uk or call +44 (0)20 7559 3991.

Upon the beautiful Cornwall shores,
An enchanting evening is in store.
For Central students creative flair
Is presented to the communities with so much Care.
The stone Beauty of that cliff stage
Hosts many a show for every age.
Each year the air is filled with many delights;
Music, song, rhythms and many instrumental sights.
Beasts, dragons, fairies what an array
We transform ourselves For 7 Days.
In wind, in rain, in cold and sleet
And not forgetting that overwhelming heat!
We sung, danced and performed journeys, myths and stories
Minack: you changed our lives, long its glory.

Lauren Overs (BA DE 2003)