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Festival will fete Noël Coward next year

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The 2015 Master Playwright Festival will celebrate the work and style of Jazz Age poster boy Noël Coward.

No one epitomized the lively, decadent 1920s better than the sophisticated, urbane and ever-clever Coward (1899-1973), whose cabaret songs and long-running plays such as Hay Fever and Private Lives, as well as the movie Brief Encounter, made him a giant of British stage and music.

"Noël Coward was a keen observer of human psychology, an undisputed master of repartee and a stylish chronicler of the champagne set," says Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre artistic director Steven Schipper, who made the selection announced Wednesday, Feb. 12. "Yet what makes his plays timeless is that he liked a little grit in his glitter: someone is always misbehaving in a Coward play and sidestepping high society's rigorous codes."

This year, for the first time since MillerFest 2009, attendance at the festival topped 10,000. In addition to the 10,411 patrons to the ticketed performances, there were another 2,277 who attended the lectures and film screenings. The 10,411 mark is the fourth-highest total, behind festivals dedicated to Bertolt Brecht, Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller.

ChekhovFest proved a favourite with the local theatre community, which presented 18 shows, the largest number of shows of any festival. There were almost twice as many performances at ChekhovFest as there were at SondheimFest in 2013, but audience grew by less than 1,400, a number that reflects only modest growth.

That more than 10,000 people risked frostbite to see challenging Chekhov plays is still impressive, festival executive producer Chuck McEwen notes.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2014 C8

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