Tragically hilarious

CowardFest features a selection of plays by funny British playwright

Get ready to laugh when the Master Playwright Festival shines the spotlight on Noël Coward.

Since 2001, the festival has been recognizing playwrights who have created a number of scripts that are influential in defining a certain style or time period.

“He is really known for writing a unique style of comedy during that time period, and challeng[ing] a few of the societal norms that were prevalent in the ’20s and the ’30s, especially in terms of class structure,” Master Playwright Festival executive producer Chuck McEwen says.

The festival will be showing such well-known Coward classics as Hay Fever and Private Lives, but it will also be digging deeper and showing some plays that never got as much attention.

“What I find interesting about this festival is that you get to see where they started at the beginning of the career and where they ended up in the end,” McEwen says.

One of the lesser known plays is Noël Collaborates, which is performed by local community theatre group R-G Productions.

The troupe’s original script is based off the first play Coward ever wrote, Ida Collaborates, which was co-written with his childhood friend Esme Wynne. It tells the story of a housemaid who falsely assumes that her employer has fallen in love with her.

Since it was unpublished and only performed once in 1917, R-G Productions artistic director and performer Heather Forgie had to search for the script. Eventually the Victoria and Albert Museum sent her the pages as a series of JPEGs after she was granted rights from the estate.

“I just knew I wanted to do something for the festival that other people weren’t going to be doing,” Forgie says. “There’s a lot of humour and it’s really wordy, but in a good way. Coward was really gifted at making things that might otherwise be tragic seem hilarious.”

A more modernized take on Coward can be found in Stuffed Red Peppers: Extra Spicy, which will be performed by the Talentless Lumps, a bouffon/clowning group which formed about three years ago.

Their script is based on the original Coward play Red Peppers, which follows a married couple who tour around as a Vaudeville act, and comes with a mature content warning.

“Lumps aren’t afraid to fart or swear so that’s why we decided to toss that advisory on there,” Alissa Watson (one of the six Talentless Lumps) explains. “We’ve really thrown our own twists into there and tried to do something different. We even wrote two Vaudevillian style numbers and one of them is a Taylor Swift parody which we’re doing at the end.”

After being tasked with Anton Chekhov last year, the Talentless Lumps are excited to honour a playwright that isn’t quite as serious.

“He was a pretty funny guy and he was a pretty talented comedy writer,” Spenser Payne, another Talentless Lump, adds. “If Coward was still writing I think some of our stuff would align with what he would continue to produce.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 21, 2015)

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