Whenever I see the name Wally McCabe in a cast list, I know I’m in for a memorable performance. This year’s Magdalen garden play saw McCabe star as Orlando – an immortal, sex changing hopeless romantic.

The fourth wall in this adaptation is a thin ether. A gaggle of Virginia Woolf’s grace us throughout, directly interacting with the characters she is writing. Perhaps this is a nod to the fact that Orlando is based upon one of Woolf’s own lovers, Vita Sackville-West. It is also clearly a nod to the themes of time and identity which illuminate the narrative. 

We see Orlando meet kings and queens throughout the ages, be pursued and rejected, and travel the world from London to Constantinople. But who is Orlando? And more importantly – what does it mean to be someone?

By placing Orlando in different bodies, settings and eras, the audience is left to reflect upon the fact that who we are, or at least how we express ourselves outwardly, is often a product of our circumstances. Particular emphasis is given to the fact that women have historically been given particular social roles, and yet are perfectly capable of fulfilling other roles. 

Questions about the nature of gender identity are raised throughout. At one point Orlando questions whether they have always been a woman, or whether they were truly at one point a man but are now a woman. The play uses humour to answer such questions bluntly, with Orlando walking off stage, distracted by the day-to-day goings on in their life. 

Other very amusing occurrences throughout the play include audience members being taken onto stage and offered as potential suitors to Orlando. On the night I watched, the president of Magdalen college’s husband happened to be one of these lucky suitors.

A moment which left the audience slightly bewildered, yet nevertheless entertained, was the first act ending with a naval officer (Hugh Linklater) collapsing to the ground in what can only be described as sexual ecstasy after seeing Orlando, who had just transformed into a woman. When I cheerily texted this information to a friend, they responded, “so, that was the… climax of the play?” 

During the interlude McCabe stayed on stage, staring longingly into the crowd. Illuminated by sharp lighting as the sun went down, I reflected on how the atmosphere of outdoor plays is particularly magical. Throughout the show, off-script cats graced the stage and seating area. Such rawness only served to emphasise ideas of adaptation and acceptance. 

The excellent live music, explicitly acknowledged by Orlando, highlighted the idea that identity is a narrative we craft ourselves. The use of costume changes on stage brilliantly underscored the effort that goes into the crafting of personal identity. The cast’s chemistry was brilliant. If you have ever questioned what it means to be you, this is certainly a production worth watching.