Coriolanus, York Shakespeare Project, Friargate Theatre, York, until tomorrow; box office, 01904 613000 or at / The Comedy Of Errors, Royal Shakespeare Company, York Theatre Royal, today; 01904 623568 or

TWO contrasting Shakespeare productions are running in York this week: the 34th play in York Shakespeare Project’s 20-year programme to do all the Bard’s works bar none, and the latest schools visit by the RSC with a show for milk-teeth Shakespeare watchers.

Coriolanus introduces to York the talents of Hull freelance director Madeleine O’Reilly, for whom the world’s a stage, even in a Hull taxi.

She has a boldness about her directing, not afraid to experiment, to break boundaries, to find new possibilities. Coriolanus might be considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”, one for hardcore fans, but that is no problem to O’Reilly.

She becomes the second YSP director, after Maggie Smales’s Henry V, to direct an all-female Bard production. “I immediately thought of Margaret Thatcher: a strong leader, who isn’t necessarily popular and divides people,” said O’Reilly, in drawing comparisons with Coriolanus in this tragic tale of power, politics, manipulation, traitors and dissemblers.

Pre-show Billy Bragg and The Specials’ songs establish the Eighties milieu; Emma Summers’ Coriolanus enters in a Maggie mask, and fencing and placards are everywhere – “Corn, Not Scorn” – like back in the day.

Summers’ frank, fierce Coriolanus speaks “with heart in mouth”, too true, too blunt, so averse to fake news, that there can only be one ending, as all around the sands shift.

O’Reilly keeps the script as it was, with “he” rather than “she”, but having an all-female cast shows off York’s distaff acting talent to the full with Maggie Smales’s Menenius, Abi McLoughlin’s Aufidius and Jodie Fletcher’s Brutus particularly impressive.

Amid the bleak darkness and breathless claustrophobia, there are shards of humour too, both in Summers’ bullish performance and in such details as a packet of crisps being shared around.

York Press:

Lewis Griffin as Dromio of Ephesus in the RSC's The Comedy Of Errors

The Royal Shakespeare Company, meanwhile, has been having fun working with pupils at York High School , who popped up on stage yesterday to perform one scene early on in The Comedy Of Errors.

This is a First Encounters with Shakespare RSC show, billed as “Shakespeare for younger audiences”,  and yesterday’s matinee was full of enraptured children aged seven to 13, engaging with Alex Thorpe’s superbly edited 90-minute version of a play full of mistaken identities, identical twins, mischief-making, slapstick fighting, physical comedy, madcap games of musical chairs and buoyant songs.

You could say that the acting is deliberately broad, bigger in gesture than normal, even a little manic, but actually it is a breath of fresh air, as the ever-present cast of eight throw themselves wholeheartedly into the spirit of shaking up Shakespeare for the new generation.

Coriolanus, York Shakespeare Project, Friargate Theatre, York, 7.30pm tonight, 2.30pm and 7.30pm tomorrow; box office, 01904 613000 or at / The Comedy Of Errors, Royal Shakespeare Company, York Theatre Royal, today, 10.30am and 7.30pm; 01904 623568 or