It was Shakespeare—and a very dedicated English teacher—who brought me to the UK in the summer of 1999. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a number of plays (and the odd musical or two) in gardens across the country. This is because once the weather warms up, outdoor spaces are converted into open-air theatres for local amateur dramatic groups and professional touring companies.
It was one of the former that I had the opportunity to catch this summer at the Glove Factory Studios in the nearby village of Holt. I was familiar with the quality of Holt’s productions from past performances: from murder mysteries and 18th century plays to Jane Austen and Shakespeare, they are willing to tackle it all. This production happened to be one I was unfamiliar with, Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
This is considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because of the abrupt shifts in tone, from dark drama to comedic word play (even Shakespeare wasn’t above making a bum joke!), yet it is also a work that seems specifically written for the #MeToo era. For a modern audience, the play cannot be neatly pigeonholed into comedy or tragedy, but is something rather different: complicated and thought provoking. The cast did a fantastic job handling this difficult material, wringing laughs from centuries old jokes while also underscoring that abusers and their victims have been locked in a battle for belief for centuries. This was brought home with a line from the corrupt Angelo:
“As for you,
Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true.”
Beyond getting acquainted with one of the Bard’s more difficult works, this also served as my introduction to the Glove Factory, which houses studio space and a café in converted historic buildings (their original use is in the name). My curiosity was piqued; I decided to make a return visit to check out the café properly and spend some time in the lovely gardens at The Courts, a National Trust property in the very heart of the village.
It was a good decision. The Field Kitchen at the Glove Factory was a great place for a bite to eat, with fresh, local food and a fantastic atmosphere. The only downside is that it is slightly too far away to visit on a regular basis; otherwise, my laptop and I would have a reserved table as it’s the perfect place to work in.
It is only a stone’s throw to The Courts, which was built in the early 18th century for a wealthy cloth merchant. However, it takes its name from its secondary use: serving as a village court of law for local weavers to settle disputes. Two centuries later, the owner was influenced by famed landscape architect Gertrude Jekyll to create a series of “garden rooms” that flow into each other while retaining their own character. This makes it a wonderful place to explore and, at seven acres plus an arboretum, there is plenty to see in the course of a visit.
Although most of the flowers were slightly past peak when I was there, not helped by the summer’s heatwave, the raised pond was spectacular. Water lilies and their reflections added bright spots of colour to the surface, and darting here and there above the water were colourful dragonflies and damselflies. The dragonflies in particular were making the most of the beautiful day to court, mate, and lay their eggs in the water. The ravenous nymphs of both species will overwinter in the pond before emerging as adults, with the dragonflies potentially taking several years to reach maturity.
I have been fortunate this summer to enjoy a little of everything that Wiltshire has to offer, from quaint market towns, grand houses and gardens, and the spire of Salisbury (and beyond). However, stay tuned: I’ll be venturing a bit further afield soon, and going a lot further back in time.