"There should be no set - unless it blends in - because it's sacrilege," says Philip Jackson, the manager for the last 12 years of the open-air Minack Theatre, a stone folly high on the wild cliffs at Porthcurno, near Land's End.
"A theatre company once tried to put down a false floor of black-and-white lino for a modern play," Jackson continues. "Can you believe it? It looked utterly ridiculous. I had a little argument over that."
Creating a set that's in keeping with the stage's cliff-top surroundings can be especially problematic for drawing-room dramas, such as Les Liaisons Dangereuses (appearing as part of the Minack's 17-week summer season of plays from 28 July to 1 August). A passionate tale of love, lust and betrayal among the French aristocracy, adapted from the 18th-century French novel by Laclos, the play charts the seduction of both the young Cecile and the demure yet passionate Mme de Tourvel by the Vicomte de Valmont.
As envisaged by Bath's Next Stage Theatre company, the cast move around the stage on an outdoor chessboard in terracotta and cream - a clever device that mirrors the plots and counter-plots of the story, while masking the paucity of props. "Those in tune with the Minack know not even to use screens anymore," says Jackson. "They just blow over and look totally incongruous. We need to give audiences credit for using their imaginations."
Les Enfants du Paradis (11-15 August) will, for example, transform the stage into the streets of Paris through the use of street lights alone - a concept that has Jackson's vote of approval: "Some of the set designers are good at adding to the Minack."
The stage itself has several different layers, plus steps, arches, a balcony and "the slab", which has, in its time, doubled as a table, an altar and a bed. "It is all very versatile," says Jackson. "That's a tribute to one woman - Rowena Cade. She built the Minack for a one-off performance of The Tempest in 1932." Cade then spent the next 40 years developing and refining the theatre.
The Beaufort Opera, a London-based amateur opera company, will be taking full advantage of the setting for its performances ofMadame Butterfly (21-25 July). Puccini's tragic love story takes place within a house in Nagasaki, and, says Jackson, "Butterfly looks across the bay for the dashing Captain Pinkerton's ship - and, of course, she does have a real bay to look at."
The Jungle Book (4-8 August), meanwhile, will look very sparse. "We are selling tickets like hot cakes," says Jackson. "But everyone seems to think The Jungle Book is by Disney. I tell them that it's an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's classic. And they say - who is he?"
The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall (01736 810181; www.minack.com) main season runs to 13 Sept;gala performance of 'The Sea' takes place on 20 SeptReuse content