Last week, I found myself watching a production of The Great Gatsby as part of the open air theatre at the Weald & Downland Museum. There are surely few more quintessentially summer things to do? And yes, before you ask, the Weald and Downland Museum is home to The Repair Shop. But I have a confession … this was my first ever visit to the museum and I was left asking, how and why have I never been before?
The museum is an open-air museum spread over a 40-acre site. There are over 50 buildings and homes which you can explore set against a backdrop of beautiful views, meadows, and woodland. It’s a living museum, so there are also all sorts of things going on that cover over 1,000 years of Sussex life. You’re likely to find Victorian blacksmiths at work or you could pop into the Tudor kitchens and see what they’re cooking up or try some Medieval activities.
The museum hosts art exhibitions, seasonal activities, children’s activities, and walks with talks. And above all else, on a balmy summer evening, I was struck by the sense of place. It’s quiet but it’s also very evocative, set as it is away from the hustle and bustle. It feels like you’re in a different time, and it’s really not hard to immerse yourself in a time and place of long ago.
The best of all days
A day spent at the museum is time well spent. There is a café overlooking the millpond and watermill, and the café and the museum are dog friendly (as are the theatrical productions). Or you could bring a picnic and at the end of your visit, head up to The Trundle on the South Downs a short drive away for stunning views.
The open theatre
The reason for my visit was to see a production of The Great Gatsby by the Tethered Wits theatre company. As an audience, we assembled on the lawn by the lake with the sun slowly setting to the side of us over the beautiful historic buildings. Picnics of smoked salmon sandwiches and strawberries and cream with sparkling wine were very much the order of the day as we settled down for an evening of 1920s glamour. And even the ducks took a break from their evening swim to enjoy refrains from Cole Porter and George Gershwin.
Most of us know the story of The Great Gatsby and it was only enhanced by the occasional throaty roar of an engine heading home from Goodwood (presumably) and the sun’s last rays breaking moodily over the final scene. Very evocative. And what a fabulously civilised way to spend a summer evening.
As I drove home over the South Downs, the sun was just dropping behind the hills, providing the perfect finishing touch to a rather wonderful evening.
Weald and Downland Museum are hosting a number of summer productions over the summer including: Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, Jane Austin’s Sense & Sensibilities, and for the children David Walliams’s Bad Dad and the iconic Wind in the Willows. For more information and to book, visit: Weald and Downland Museum
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