PAUL Taylor-Mills is so busy that the young director had to leave the opening night of Much Ado before the close to return to London.

Birmingham-born Paul has just spent a year as Cameron Mackintosh’s assistant on Hair in the West End and Les Miserables at the 02 Arena and is now preparing the European premiere of My Big Gay Italian Wedding in Victoria.

In his words, “it had to be something exciting for me to come up to York for the past two months”, and given his musical pedigree, you won’t be surprised that song and dance, as well as soldiers’ uniforms and NAAFI girl garb, have made their way into his ebullient reinvention of Shakeapeare’s comedy.

He has swapped Messina, Italy, for Yorkshire and references to Pocklington, Poppleton, Pontefract and Harrogate. The setting is York in the Summer of 1945, in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, whose end is signified by the radio bulletin that opens the show in the evening air of Rowntree Park after a round of Andrews Sisters warm-up songs.

This announcement is the cue for revelry, the park’s raised amphitheatre bedecked by designer Andrew Beckett in Union bunting and balloons as the backdrop for Roll Out The Barrel and Knees Up Mother Brown, sung lustily to the accompaniment of recorded music, although an amplified piano would have been more aesthetically pleasing.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of those meddling comedies where the whiff of liberation, the urgency of desire and the need for mischief are the spur for misbehaviour, mucking about in other people’s business and the path to true love being no straighter than Spaghetti Junction.

Taylor-Mills has relocated scenes from the house to the garden to enhance the sense of great escapism after the war, while Rowntree Park’s bushes and trees compliment the themes of deception and eavesdropping.

They’re all at it! Soon-to-be-married lovers Claudio (Alan Flower) and Hero (Anna Rogers) are conspiring with Don Pedro (Niraj Davé) to set a lover’s trap for the will-they-ever-marry? Benedick (Sebastian Hulkkov) and Beatrice (Gemma Sharp). Ben Sawyer’s Don John, meanwhile, is scheming to ruin Claudio’s big day.

Taylor-Mills directs these shenanigans with boldness, cheekiness, a quick tempo and a dash of cabaret camping, courtesy of the music, although Lizzie Marshall’s rendition of We’ll Meet Again is a moving moment amid the fun and fluff.

Like the director, Sebastian Hulkkov is making his YSP debut and this East Yorkshireman makes his mark both with his very appealing voice and a manner that crosses Hugh Laurie with Richard E Grant. You’ll surely be seeing more of him.

Gemma Sharp impresses once more, not least in making her every move count, often at pace, while Anna Rogers is a striking Hero, and among the comedic players, there is splendidly daft interplay between Tom Staszewski’s Dogberry (here transformed into a Home Guard jobsworth) and Greg Sellers’ Verges in a cameo as manic as Lee Evans. Daniel Wilmot’s Conrad and Damian Freddi’s Borachio add to the physical humour too.

How apt that this triumphant Much Ado, one of the best of YSP’s 16 productions so far, should be enacted in front of a banner that reads Victory.

Much Ado About Nothing, York Shakespeare Project, Rowntree Park, York, tonight until Sunday and July 6 to 9, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm matinees, tomorrow and next Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 and on the door.