Much ado about Battle of Bards

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Two of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays will go head-to-head on Thursday, August 13, when they are performed at two of the Borders’ most impressive visitor attractions.

Bowhill House and Country Estate, the magnificent country home of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, will host a performance of Hamlet, while Abbotsford, the famous home of 19th century novelist and author Sir Walter Scott, will host a performance of The Tempest.

Both plays are amongst Shakespeare’s top 10 works and incorporate some of the most famous characters and lines in the history of playwriting.

Helen Currie, house and events manager at Bowhill, said: “Hamlet is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous play and contains moments of high comedy alongside some of the most moving poetry in the English language.

“We are, of course, hoping it will attract the biggest crowd, but with tickets proving popular for both plays, we don’t know if that’s to be or not to be!”

Kirsty Archer Thomson, heritage and engagement manager of the Abbotsford Trust, added: “With Sir Walter Scott’s birthday just around the corner, we think Abbotsford’s first outdoor theatre performance provides the perfect opportunity to celebrate our very own Wizard of the North. After all, Scott had idolised Shakespeare since his early childhood, and I’m sure he would have revelled in this feast of exoticism, magic and the supernatural as ‘such stuff as dreams are made on!’.

‘Both plays have distinctly different themes so it will very much depend on whether you prefer a tragedy or a tragicomedy!”

Both venues hope to make the most of the summer weather with outdoor performances, although contingency plans are in place at Bowhill and Abbotsford to ensure they can be performed indoors in poor weather.

Bowhill’s Hamlet will be performed by Handlebards, who promise a traditional tale with a twist.

The actors pride themselves on creating ‘unusual theatre in unusual ways’. Four young men will arrive on bicycles carrying everything needed for their performances in Bowhill’s beautiful gardens, promising Hamlet will be amongst their best performances yet.

They present Shakespeare in a distinctly different way, performing with what they describe as “eight very sore legs” and using their bikes to power various surprises and contraptions on stage whilst playing all the parts.

The Handlebards began touring Hamlet in early June, starting in Midhurst and working their way up through the UK, performing in a diverse range of venues on their travels.

The play takes place at Bowhill House and Country Estate from 6.30-8.30pm with tickets priced £12 for adults and £10 for children, with family tickets (two adults and two children) available for £40. They can be booked by calling 01750 22204 or ordered at

Meanwhile Abbotsford’s The Tempest will be performed by The Three Inch Fools, a new repertory theatre company touring open-air productions of Shakespeare plays.

Their visit to Abbotsford forms part of a 14-day tour of stately homes and castles across the North of England and Scotland. The experienced actors, who have toured Shakespeare both in the UK and the East Coast of the USA, will arrive at Abbotsford with their camping gear, props and instruments in tow.

They promise a vibrant and fast-paced production of The Tempest, featuring a rustic blend of wit, originality and eccentricity, combined with live music-making, to create a dynamic take on this famous play.

The performance starts at 6pm, with access to Morris Garden available from 5pm. Picnics and hot food/drinks will be available to purchase in the garden. Tickets are priced £12 for adults, £10 concession, and £8 for children. They can be booked online at, by telephone on 01896 752043, or purchased at the Abbotsford Visitor Centre. Enquiries can be sent to