DIRECTING a York Shakespeare Project production for the first time, chairman and regular thespian Maurice Crichton says he has learnt that Shakespeare wrote for an uncluttered stage and to engage a lively audience as much as possible.

"That is why I set the cast the challenge of performing this play in the round," he reasons. "I wanted to push them to directly involve you, the audience, as much as possible and to bring movement to every scene."

Wise decision-making indeed. In Friargate's black-box theatre, your reviewer has experienced end-on productions, traverse productions with the audience split either side; productions with too much scenery or too fussy scene changes.

For All's Well, Crichton and his designer Mike Rogers place the seating on all four sides, plant a French-blue dais in the middle and restrict the stage furniture to pretty much two chairs, but never more than one on stage. A wine glass, a bottle, a table, a clipboard, a klaxon, a case, keep props to the minimum.

Thrust to the fore amid such minimalism are the costumes of Jenny Anderton – the best in YSP's history – that encapsulate each character's most prominent characteristics like a sketched caricature.

Above all, in the year when the Tour de France discovered Yorkshire, Maurice – or Mau-reece as we must now pronounce it – has "Frenched up a a too-little-seen romantic comedy written by Shakespeare at his peak".

It would be too easy a pun to say the show is consequently a tour de farce, because the comedy is multi-faceted, going from the klaxon-horned clowning of Bill Laverack's Lavatch to the Malvolio-style abusing of Jamie Smelt's bewigged, scarf-wafting Parolles. His head in a sack, his suffering at the hands of soldiers in their United Nations blue berets is sinister, albeit driven by political satire.

Our English stereotyping of the French plays its part too, whether in bursts of cod-French speaking, over-accentuated mock-French accents or Ian Crossley's mime artist, all of which give a flavour of Guillaume Shakespeare.

Amid the French frippery, couture and culture, you can't pin a precise period on proceedings, but the all-French soundtrack is retro, and while Laverick's Lavatch and Claire Morley's modern soldier Morgan are polar extremes, many of the scenes could have been frozen in a Robert Doisneau photograph from the Parisian 1930s.

This applies in particular to Sam Hill's callow young Count, Bertram, the aptly named Paul French's King and the three strong women that drive the "romantic" shenanigans at the heart of the piece: Helen Wilson's firm but fair, widowed Countess in black; Sophie Ollivier Tyler's polka-dotty distraction, Diana; and Molly Kay's Helen, the girl from the Countess's household with a crush on a Count out of her league, who in turn needs a crash course on love etiquette.

It all rises as pleasingly as a soufflé, while company debutants Hill and Kay are the creme de la creme in Crichton's Camembert-ripe comic art de triomphe.

All's Well That Ends Well, York Shakespeare Project, Friargate Theatre, York, 2pm and 7.30pm today and tomorrow. Box office: 01904 613000 or