The Playing Place – a review

A few weeks ago, Lemon Quay in Truro was home to a shipping container filled with words and stories celebrating theatre and performance. Disappearing nearly as quickly as it arrived, it feels about time to look back at what we made.

By Sam Gray

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m sat, feet up, in a room with a view made of houses and moorland hills. Cool wind squeezes through the open window and somewhere between the lawnmower and the barking dog lays a rhythm. In this tranquil place, I start to write about another place. The Playing Place.

How it started
The Playing Place came to life when Cornwall Design Season invited creative teams to transform 15 shipping containers in Cornwall into themed exhibition spaces to celebrate the county.

Rob Self-Pierson, a Board member of 26, having only just moved back to Falmouth from London, couldn’t resist the challenge. He asked for a container – to fill with magnetic letters.

Then he called me. ‘I can see people telling their own stories. But I need a designer to help me. Are you interested?’

‘Love it, I’m in,’ I said.

Container? Check. Writer? Check. Designer? Check. Sketchbook brimming with ideas around our theme of amphitheatres? Check!

Cornwall Design Season asked us to focus on The Minack, carved into the cliff not far from Land’s End, and Plain-an-Gwarry, a patch of grass, ten miles north of The Minack, in the heart of a little town called St Just.

In Cornish, Plain-an-Gwarry means ‘playing place’ or ‘place of play’ – the perfect name and starting point for us.

We had hundreds of ideas, one container and £500 to spend…

We kept it simple – all about theatre and the power of words and design. We wanted to create a place that entertained, educated and inspired all ages to come together and play with words. So we created a set, influenced by amphitheatres.

What visitors experienced
Walking in you could smell the real grass underfoot before you felt it. Looking left you could see ten theatre posters with words from writers including John Simmons, Maura Dooley, Teresa Gray and Victoria Field, and designs by creative minds like Domenic Lippa, Gilmar Wendt, John McFaul and Anne Rowe.

To the right of each poster, QR tags allowed visitors to hear stories brought to life by actors including Vincent Franklin, Simon Grover and Bill Scott. You can still hear these at

If you continued into the darkness, you encountered ‘bubbling, foaming sherbet swirls of the sea’ in stories written by Roshni Goyate, Rosamund Derry, Martin Lee and others. We hand-painted these onto our set.

‘I’m the one that looks like a cheese twist…’ said the cloud above.

To your right, nearly 300 magnetic letters decorated the wall. We asked visitors to tell us a story with them. Maybe something true, maybe not – it didn’t matter. This was The Playing Place (the clue’s in the name).

You could see children having fun, parents teaching them to spell. Adults reading and listening to the posters, laughing, learning and feeling inspired. While teenagers told us about Abby and Ben, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g.

What we wanted to achieve
1. Bring people together to play with words.
2. Create a place where rules didn’t matter.
3. Create a place where everyone was on the same level.

We did it. We did it all. And when I say ‘we’, I mean the fifty plus people who created the community that made this happen.

In his blog, photographer Chase Jarvis talks about art and how, although the vision may come from just one or two minds, getting it out there requires a journey involving many skilled people. ‘In short, it takes a village,’ says Chase.

On that note, I’d like to thank Cornwall Design Season and everyone that helped make our village…

Thank you to Rob, Sam, Jay and Mike. Alyson, Anna Maria, James and John. Maura, Rosamund and Sophie. Teresa, Victoria, Simon and Eric. Jay, Domenic, Jeremy and Lucy. John, Marcus. Gilmar and Neil. Anne, Thomas, Daniel and David. Kate, Vincent, Bill and Dominic. Kate, Simon, Ben and Lauren. Stuart, Colin, Chopsy and Anna. Jim, Mike, Martin and Rishi. Roshni, Nick, Tim and Kathryn. Noora, Phil, Miracle Theatre and Chris. Quietroom, 26, Learning Resources and Lee. Annette, David, Trina and Active Colour.

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