Of Oxford’s many traditions, the college garden play may well be my favourite. It involves no monotone Latin, as at matriculation; you don’t need to look like a spindly bird with those flapping subfusc wings; and there’s (hopefully) none of the bleary-eyed sleep deprivation of May Day morning.

Instead, like normal civilised people, you get to wear your own clothes, sit on little garden chairs that have been dragged out by loyal student helpers, and swat the inevitable swarm of flies away from your face, for roughly an hour and a half.

Wadham College Drama Society’s shortened version of The Comedy of Errors, directed by Savinay Sood (who also stepped in as Dromio of Ephesus), relished its garden setting. Especially considering the complexities of the original plot, the abridgement managed well to keep its narrative intelligible, whilst not letting the otherwise lengthy sequence of errors drag on under the hot sun. 

We follow two sets of identical twins separated at birth, who have accidentally reunited in later life as they continue to be mistaken for one another. Antipholus of Syracuse and his slave, Dromio of Syracuse, arrive in Ephesus, the Greek city which turns out to be where their twin brothers live (predictably and unhelpfully named Antipholus of Ephesus and his slave, Dromio of Ephesus). A series of slapstick hijinks ensue, including wrongful arrests, attempted seduction, and accusations of infidelity, theft, and demonic possession. 

Wadham’s production of Shakespeare’s lesser-known early comedy got into the spirit of the mayhem. Each actor donned bright, monochrome togas to help identify their characters (and signpost the ‘identical’ twins). 

Scene changes were accompanied by a string quartet, playing everything from ABBA to Doja Cat, much to the audience’s amusement. The occasional prop was used well: a pair of sunglasses lowered ironically, or a plastic inflatable sword wielded menacingly.

The stand-out stars were Joe Rachmann and Alexander Evers as Dromio and Antipholus of Syracuse, who flung themselves into the physical comedy of the play with great (and at times alarming) force. Alex struck a Don Juan figure, flexing his biceps and looking down his nose even as he spiritedly launched himself into roly-polys. His rendition of one love speech to Luciana (his twin’s sister-in-law) was morphed into an intensely physical interpretive dance. 

Some of the funniest moments came from the actors’ own ad-libs – for instance, Rachmann’s Dromio running up to audience members and calling them ‘Goblins, and OUDS, and Assistant Directors, and sprites!’ with increasingly high-pitched hysteria. 

Even the moments in which Shakespeare’s comedy falters were held up by the cast’s changes: Jules Upson’s Southern Evangelical pastor voice made the exorcism scene all the more ridiculous, whilst Grace Bellorini’s listless policeman kept up the light tone during otherwise boring arrest scenes. 

Whilst it was not the most polished production of Shakespeare Oxford has ever seen (there was a fair amount of corpsing, and some modern ad-libs landed better than others), the cast’s enjoyment was infectious. When one of the three arches which formed the set broke after some heavy jostling by one actor, Jessica Tabraham called out: ‘Shoddy infrastructure! Obviously built by a bunch of English students.’ In a play about accidental silliness, there’s quite a lot the cast can get away with before it stops being funny. 

Some lines were mumbled through, but for the most part it was an enthusiastic performance of one of Shakespeare’s less popular plays, with the cast clearly having so much fun the audience couldn’t help but laugh along.