West Cornwall’s reputation as a creative centre includes the performing arts, and there are some great places to catch quality theatre in St Ives and nearby. Here are our suggestions for unforgettable theatre experiences in Cornwall.
If you have any qualms about amateur youth theatre, or think that shows by kids should be just for kids, think again. The talents, the production values, and the sheer energy of the cast and crew make a Kidz R Us performance truly astounding for any audience. The St Ives theatre company performs such challenging musicals such as Les Misérables, Oliver, and Jesus Christ Superstar (lyricist Sir Tim Rice is the company’s patron); and the older actors also put on more grown-up productions, including the recent and rather naughty Avenue Q.
Kidz R Us productions run throughout the year, although there are some gaps in the programme so check in advance. Most of their performances take place in St Ives Theatre, the former chapel that’s been home to the company since 1994, located in the centre of St Ives and handily near a couple of car parks.
(And if the chap running the interval raffle looks familiar, that’s because Kidz’s founder, chair, and local hero Phil Barnett was one of the contestants on The People’s Strictly for Comic Relief in 2015.)
When you’re in West Cornwall, it’s only a short-ish (and beautiful) drive to the Minack Theatre. Known across the globe, the Minack is an open-air theatre carved from the cliffs high above Porthcurno beach, which offers a fabulous programme of productions. Bring a blanket, waterproofs, sunblock, shades (you never know) and a hamper, and immerse yourself in a show with the best backdrop imaginable.
The season usually runs from April until early October, with no performances over the winter. Any disappointment with this timetable will soon be countered if you imagine sitting high up on a Cornish cliff, at night, in December…
However, you may be able catch one of the off-season, daytime storytelling sessions. These are usually held in the half-term holidays, with short performances by the splendid Penzance-based Squashbox Theatre and other Minack favourite, John Brolly. The Minack is also open for visitors during the day, all year round. There is a visitor centre; and you can scramble around the seats and stage at will. Plus, if you like your cream tea with a dramatic view, there’s no better place than The Minack’s cliff-perching café.
The renowned Kneehigh was formed in Cornwall over 30 years ago; and although now the innovative theatre company is now internationally famous, it still keeps its feet firmly in its home county. Creating and performing original productions, Kneehigh has been described as “Cornwall’s National Theatre.”
In 2010, the company launched The Asylum, a giant nomadic-style, tipi-like structure which pitches up at The Lost Gardens of Heligan in the summer. Unlike most other outdoor theatre productions, Kneehigh’s audiences don’t need to have one eye on the stage and the other on the sky, as The Asylum offers a practical (and truly atmospheric) performance space. It also has a fully-licensed bar, and you can combine the performance with a meal at Heligan’s restaurant.
Kneehigh is currently touring the UK and America with 946, its adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s wartime novel The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips.
These are just three of Cornwall’s theatrical experiences. If you have time, there are a few other venues to check out. If you’re around at Christmas, try The Boathouse Theatre in St Ives for some magical puppetry and storytelling. Hall for Cornwall in Truro is a quick trip up the A30; and slightly closer, the Regal Cinema in Redruth hosts live theatre as well as showing films.