The ancient amphitheatres of Cornwall are to be the subject of a research project aimed at celebrating their history and reclaiming them for modern audiences.
The plen an gwary – or playing places – that survive in St Just and Perranporth are said to be the oldest working theatres in Britain. Once the setting for spectacular, three-day, outdoor performances telling the lives of Cornish saints and illuminating biblical stories, they attracted huge crowds in Tudor times, with the whole community joining in.
The sites of other medieval plen an gwary have been documented throughout Cornwall, with evidence suggesting there could once have been as many as 70 of the amphitheatres.
A new project aims to provide a definitive picture of the earthworks. With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and RIO’s Challenge Fund, Golden Tree Productions aim to fully research and uncover these lost sites of Cornwall’s theatrical heritage.
The project will involve an education programme for pupils, teachers and university students, a website and an app enabling people to view historic images and listen to stories and music, an illustrated book, and touring exhibitions. Between 2.30pm and 4pm on Saturday March 8, members of Golden Tree Productions will launch Plen an Gwary: The Playing Places of Cornwall in St Just.
Sasha Dobrota, of Golden Tree Productions, said: “People will be able to find out if they’ve got a plen-an-gwary in their back garden, watch a contemporary ‘scratch’ re-enactment by performance students from Falmouth University, try out the pilot version of our new app, see a short screening of St Just Plen Project’s 2000-2004 Ordinalia revivals, and tuck into tea and saffron buns.”
Among the events planned for this year at Perran Round, which is associated with St Piran, the patron saint of tinners, will be a performance by Miracle Theatre, Gorsedh Kernow’s annual Awen ceremony on June 22, and Golden Tree’s own show, Gogmagog.
“Gogmagog is a pop-up performance inspired by Cornwall’s oldest myth,” said Sasha. “We aim to give it a contemporary twist, with an injection of immersive and experimental storytelling. It will be touring 12 venues across Cornwall this summer.”
The project is now looking for volunteers to help with researching individual sites. For details email firstname.lastname@example.org