The paying guests of Druimard Guest House on the Isle of Mull were lucky people. From 1963 every Thursday their hosts entertained them with Thursday Theatre in what would become the ‘smallest professional theatre in the world’ (according to the Guinness Book of Records) – the Mull Little Theatre.
Professional actors Barrie and Marianne Hesketh built the theatre out of the ruins of byre, a cowshed. It seated just 42, and the stage could only cope with three actors at a time. So they were innovative with space: Macbeth with a cast of five and puppets was one of their biggest hits. Double mirrors were used to create a sinister scene where one witch was distorted into three; videos projecting the smaller parts, including one that was filmed with a bloodstained sheet as a backdrop.
Nowadays, less of the little, it’s just the Mull Theatre and in 2006 the theatre company moved to a new site near Tobermory, and from this base it tours to 300 venues, mostly remote island communities in the Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney. They use whatever is available to them from schoolrooms to big stages, such as the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh. They even made it down to London for a short run. The original byre is now a luxury holiday cottage… for two persons.
This is a wonderful example of what I call outpost theatres and they demonstrate what theatre enthusiasts can achieve, even when starting small, by not losing sight of their original purpose.
There’s another visionary to admire – Rowena Cade. Born in 1893, after WWI she moved to Cornwall and brought a parcel of land for £100, upon which she built a house. Minack means rocky place in Cornish and it gave her an idea. Following an open air performance of A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Rowen offered her garden for the next production – The Tempest. But where would the audience sit?
She built the amphitheatre by hand, and the odd stick of dynamite. She and her team cut the rock into terrace seats out of the side of the cliff. Concrete was mixed with sand from the beach, which she carried up in sacks. An accomplished artist, she carved designs into the wet concrete of each stone seat and in doings so effectively created a memorial to herself. She died in 1983 aged ninety.
Minack is now considered one of the world’s most spectacular theatres. You can see why. From Easter to September Minack puts on twenty plays by companies from all over the UK and USA.
Just think of that first performance of The Tempest with the real sea as a backdrop. Shakespeare would have been delighted.