The program essay for Bell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream seems keen to hose down any expectation we might have that the Bard’s best known and most performed comedy is, in fact, meant to be funny.

Shakespeare, notes self-confessed “theatre nut” Andy McLean, wrote the play in a period of “bad harvests, food riots, poverty and malnutrition … Child mortality was perilously high … England was a paranoid police state where all sorts of imaginative forms of torture and execution were dished out.”

For two-thirds of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, McLean writes, “most of the lead characters are unhappy.” Therefore, he concludes, the play “is more a black comedy than a golden idyll.”

I don’t doubt that life in Shakespeare’s England was pretty bloody miserable at times. But to allow a production to get bogged down in it strikes me as a bit wrong-headed. You can just as easily make the argument that the darkest times fuel the most anarchically funny responses.

Bell Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Photo © Brett Boardman

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