There’s a favourite Cat Stevens song that goes ‘Oh baby, it’s a wild world/you can’t get by just upon a smile, girl’. The song was going around in my head more than little as I watched this latest David Williamson play, THE BIG TIME.
The great man’s subject is the entertainment industry, a world which he has inhabited for nigh on fifty years. How true Williamson’s program note is when he says, ‘I know that in the industry that creates fictional drama, that real life drama can be intense.’
Williamson is an ever astute observer of relationships and this is the engine which drives THE BIG TIME. We see the very fractured relationship of Celia and Vicki, two girls who went through NIDA together and whose careers have taken them off in very different directions.
Vicki is doing a lots of independent theatre gifs, whilst Celia has had a long standing role in a soapie, or as she calls it ‘a continuing drama series’. Whenever the girls meet for a cuppa Vicki baits Celia to leave the soapie and do some serious acting. After all, she was the star student at NIDA. Celia is a little torn, she would like to venture out but she loves the regular pay cheque she receives.Continue reading THE BIG TIME : OH BABY, THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY IS A WILD WORLD→
Alan Ayckbourn’s THE NORMAN CONQUESTS has nothing to do with the decisive military conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy, in the year 1006. It has everything to do with his trilogy of plays about a charming, middle-aged Lothario called Norman and his attempts to make conquests of all the women he meets.
I took the opportunity to see all three plays run consecutively over a Saturday afternoon and evening. The first play, set in the family dining room, is TABLE MANNERS. In this play Norman has set up a d weekend away with Annie, a woman who is wearying of her role looking after her cantankerous, invalid mother. There are just a few glitches – Annie is the sister of Norman’s to the point and career driven wife Ruth. Also, Annie decides to tell Sarah, the controlling wife of her brother, Reg of the plan that has been hatched and Sarah manages to convince Annie to call the whole thing off. Add to this group of people the shy, introverted local vet Tom, and you have a very promising scenario. Sarah makes the decision to get everyone to share dinner together where some poor table manners are displayed!
IN 2019 ENSEMBLE THEATRE WILL STAGE SIX BRILLIANT COMEDIES, THREE INTENSE DRAMAS AND A MUSICAL DECONSTRUCTION OF A LOVE AFFAIR
Mark Kilmurry, Artistic Director, Ensemble Theatre announced last night the 2019 Season which, says Kilmurry, promises to be an exceptional year with six brilliant comedies, three intense dramas and a musical. Three of the plays will be World Premieres, three Australian Premieres and there will be a return season of the sell-out play, DIPLOMACY.
“We will be joined by some of Australia’s finest actors including John Bell, Michelle Lim Davidson, Maggie Dence, Darren Gilshenan, Genevieve Lemon, Sharon Millerchip, Daniel Mitchell, Jamie Oxenbould Georgie Parker, Steve Rodgers and Ursula Yovichand directors including Kate Champion, Priscilla Jackman, Terence O’Connell, Shaun Rennie, Iain Sinclair and Elsie Edgerton-Till, all of whom will bring to life some of the best Australian and international plays for our 2019 season”, added Mark Kilmurry. Continue reading ENSEMBLE THEATRE LAUNCHES 2019 SEASON→
I was a little wary before I went to see this latest show at the Ensemble. I’ve seen a few Shirley Valentine’s over the years, and like many have seen the very popular film version. I’m pleased to say that the freshness and naturalness of Sharon Millerchip’s performance made for not only a bearable but a very pleasurable night at the theatre.
Willy Russell’s well crafted mainstream play is cleverly divided into two very distinct two halves. In the first half we see the very frustrated Shirley complaining about her boring, married life in suburbia and being under the thumb of her lacklustre, rigid husband. After interval she has at least temporarily leaving behind her dull life. She is living it in Greece, and amongst other things having a brief but exciting affair with a very accomodating Greek guy called Kostas.
Mark Kilmurry’s direction is clear and to the point. Simone Romaniuk’s set and costume design are very effective. A highlight is the large ‘wallpaper’ postcard from a Greek island which greets audiences when they take their seats after interval. Continue reading SHIRLEY VALENTINE @ THE ENSEMBLE THEATRE→
Ensemble Theatre, Australia’s longest continuously running, professional theatre which has staged 473 plays, has had only three Artistic Directors, has had some of Australia’s greatest actors perform and has presented some of the world’s most famous plays will celebrate 60 years on May 11.Continue reading ENSEMBLE CELEBRATES 60 YEARS STRONG→
Featured image-Carolyn Lowry, Mark Kilmurry, Francesca Savige, Sandra Bates, Shaun Rennie, John Clark.
All images by Ben Apfelbaum.
Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director Mark Kilmurry recently announced the two winners of the 2ndSandra Bates Director’s Awards supported by the Seaborn, Broughton & Walford Foundation at a function in the theatre’s waterfront foyer.
Francesca Savige and Shaun Rennie were thrilled to be the recipients of this prestigious award. Both will work as Assistant Director on two plays each in the Ensemble Theatre’s 2017 season. They will also direct a lunchtime play reading each as part of the theatre’s Boatshed events.
A night filled with quirky characters and situations generating plenty of humour is in store for you if make your way across to see the current Ensemble show.
With THE GOOD DOCTOR, Neil Simon mines the work of Anton Chekhov and comes up with a collection of appealing vignettes, tinged with absurdism.
The pieces are excellent ‘vehicles’ for actors, representing good opportunities for the cast of five to show their range and flair. And with the assist of Bates’ astute direction, that’s just what they do.
In A Defenceless Creature, Kate Raison was on fire as an uptight ‘madwoman’ harassing a conservative, frazzled banker for some money for her ailing husband. As the gruff banker who soon loses his patience, David Lynch’s stolid manner was a great counterpoint to Raison’s bluster.
In Surgery, Nathan Wilson was wonderfully manic as an earnest dentist using some very old, large, menacing instruments and doing more damage than good to his patient.
In The Seduction, Adriano Cappelletta (who has temporarily stepped in to the main role as the narrator/Chekhov figure as well as a number of other roles at close to the last moment whilst Glenn Hazeldine recovers from a car accident) was suitably charismatic and creepy as a compulsive seducer of married woman, with Chloe Bayliss equally convincing as his latest demure, coy victim.
In the more reflective Too Late For Happiness, David Lynch and Kate Raison poignantly play out a hopeful meeting between a lonely older man and woman.
The least convincing piece was The Audition in which Chloe Bayliss plays an actress who has walked four days from Odessa to Moscow to audition for a new play by her favourite playwright (Chekhov) and is more than a little starstruck. The audition sees her recite passages from The Three Sisters. This piece felt a little out of place and heavy, and came across a bit flat.
The current production represents a milestone for the Company. It is the last production that Bates is directing whilst in the position of Artistic Director (for a few years now jointly with Mark Kilmurry, who takes over solo in 2016), a position she has served for thirty years. During her time, Bates has set the set bar high; theatre patrons have had the expectation when they go to the Ensemble that they will see entertaining and often thought provoking plays that will be given worthy productions. Hopefully the high standard will continue as Kilmurry takes over full reigns.
Recommended, Sandra Bates’ production of Neil Simon’s THE GOOD DOCTOR opened at the Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli on Wednesday 2nd December and is playing until Sunday 17th January. The production then travels to Belrose’s Glen Street theatre where it will play for one week between the 19th to the 24th January 2016.
The Ensemble Theatre currently has a big membership drive going for its resident Book Club. There is a great deal on offer…
For the price of a regular theatre ticket you get to see an entertainment put on that combines the talents of three very fine, talented theatre-makers.
Roger Hall is a master of the middle class social comedy, best descriptor would be New Zealand’s equivalent of David Williamson. He is the scribe responsible for the svelte smooth THE BOOK CLUB.
The helmer is none other than Rodney Fisher one of Australia’s finest directors and the deserved winner recipient of an Order Of Australia for his services to directing and writing. The theatre program indicates that Rodney has been adapting, polishing and honing this Roger Hall; script since he took it to the Noosa Festival way back in 2008.
Mark Kilmurrry’s production takes us deeply into this Willy Russell world and its two loveable, vulnerable, very recognisable characters who stay in our hearts long after the house lights have come back up.
We walk into the theatre to be greeted with music from the nineteen eighties, the period in which the play is set, and Anna Gardiner’s finely detailed set of an academic’s chamber.
As part of this year’s 100th anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand troops landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in an offensive against the Turkish Army during World War 1, the Ensemble Theatre has developed and is now presenting its production, THE ANZAC PROJECT- HELPING US REMEMBER.
As we all know only too painfully, the campaign was a disastrous one. The troops were largely cannon fodder but the camaraderie, sardonic humour and bravery of the Australian and New Zealand forces launched a legend, henceforth known as the ANZACS that continues to be recognised every 25th April since 1916.
The two new works, commissioned by the Ensemble Theatre for their 2015 season, and written by experienced playwrights Geoffrey Atherton and Vanessa Bates, have many overlaps and similarities in style and content. With them being presented by the same quartet of actors playing quite similar characters, and both directed by Mark Kilmurry, using the same set, there tends to be a blurring of stories and images into one whole. Continue reading The Anzac Project- Helping Us Remember @ The Ensemble Theatre→
In Alan Ayckbourn’s ABSENT FRIENDS (1974) big hearted and good natured soul Di has organised an afternoon tea for Colin, one of her husband Paul’s best friends.
She has been worried about how Colin has been going after his recent tragic loss of his newly wed wife Carol in a drowning accident. With this in mind Di invites two of Colin’s best friends, John, along with his wife, Evelyn, and Gordon, along with his wife Marge, to join her husband and her in their family home, and hopefully this will help to cheer him up…
Oh…if only Di had a crystal ball! The afternoon soiree turns out very differently to how Di had hoped. Her husband Paul has come home from golf in a grumpy, cantankerous mood. He is rude, belligerent, even abusive to her.
Gordon doesn’t even turn up, his wife Marge attends and says her husband couldn’t make it. He isn’t feeling well. An absent friend as per the play’s titlle.
John is edgy and can’t stand still, his wife Evelyn is droll and bitchy. To top it all off, Diana has heard rumours that Paul and Evelyn have been having an affair.
Sydney Arts Guide is a key part of stage and film culture, and exists to celebrate the art of performance, in theatres and cinemas.
2014 was a year of amazing diversity, and our twenty accredited specialist reviewers, were all spoiled for choice in the quality of the live theatre performances to be experienced in the City of Sydney, and the suburbs of Sydney.
As the old adage goes, “live theatre is not dead theatre, as there is a different performance to be experienced every night”. Our team of professional reviewers, have each nominated their personal preferences for both theatre and cinema. A small number of movies were nominated out of the hundreds of cinema films that were seen during the last twelve months.
At the end of another outstanding year for the arts in Sydney, on Wednesday 31st December 2014, Sydney Arts Guide announced its 2014 awards in these Stage and Screen categories:-
Psychiatry is surely the most nebulous and volatile of all the chosen medical careers and the gravity of the profession played a substantial part in the extensive media coverage during our recent Mental Health Week.
English playwright Joe Penhall takes an adventurous leap into the complexities of psychiatry and mental health in his multi-award winning play, BLUE/ORANGE.
The underlying seriousness of the play is counterpointed by Penhall’s clever humour, – his ability to use razor-sharp wit and exotic ideas to keep one step ahead of his audience.
Director Anna Crawford, (with the help of assistant director Jo-Anne Cahill, a wonderful production team and outstanding cast of actors), has created an energetic and balanced production, containing all the elements of raw emotion, perplexity, humour and neuroses, enabling the audience to ponder, – who’s mad and who’s sane? Continue reading Blue/Orange→
With his play OTHER DESERT CITIES, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012, American playwright Jon Robin Baitz tackles some major subjects the most interesting being the fall-out that takes place, as it often does, when a brave soul, particularly one in the public eye, decides to put pen to paper and write a tell-all autobiographical piece.
I am sure that Mr Baitz would be highly impressed if he saw Mark Kilmurry’s current production at Kirribilli’s Ensemble’s theatre. The five member cast poignantly bring to life his very well drawn and easy to relate to characters.
A murder and rape is the catalyst for the community justice forum portrayed in the second part of David Williamson’s Jack Manning Trilogy, A CONVERSATION
This play follows a similar format to the first part of the trilogy, Face to Face, although the subject matter is significantly darker and extremely unpleasant. Members of the victim’s family and of the now imprisoned criminal’s family meet in a facilitated conference in an attempt to resolve their grief, anguish and remorse. Scott, the criminal, has been imprisoned for life. Scott’s mother has initiated the conference to apologise Barbara and Derek, the parents of the horrifically murdered Donna. Continue reading A Conversation→
With his new play DARK VOYAGER local playwright John Misto taps into something pretty much universal, the passion, more to the point obsession that people have with everything to do with celebrity.
Misto piques our interest with this tantalising scenario:-
We are in Hollywood. It’s 1962. Right wing gossip columnist Hedda Hopper sure has a lively sense of wanting to live dangerously. Hedda invites the two leading ladies, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, over for supper in her swanky Beverly Hills apartment.
The duo had just completed their latest film, ‘Whatever happened to Baby Jane?’ and word from the set is that the co-stars had been fighting like cat and dog through the film’s entirety and that the film had not turned out well.
Both the women arrive true to form. First Bette arrives and is so rattled by Skip, Bette’s house boy, not recognising her, that she gets into the whisky very early on…Then Joan strolls in, in a resplendent blue dress, having managed to get through her crowd of fans. Continue reading Dark Voyager→
With nods to both the legendary Olivier and the McKellan versions, this is an extraordinarily beautifully spoken version of Shakespeare’s play, but I am afraid it just falls short of the mark. You can certainly see what this production is attempting to achieve, however it still leaves us feeling a little emotionally uninvolved.
This is a pared back abridged version with cuts, and many of the cast playing several different characters as required throughout the play, which can be a little confusing.
This production, directed by and starring Mark Kilmurry, is framed as a dangerous act of theatre, in which six players gather in a dark, sparsely furnished bunker to perform Shakespeare’s Richard III. There is a sense of suspense, of wartime desolation, of destruction.
Barely acknowledging each other upon flurried arrival, the cast set straight to work ,at first rehearsing short, key snippets of scenes, the sword fight in particular. Costumes, props and a set of benches, a table and dead TV sets have already been assembled. Kilmurry straps on a hump, picks up his gloves, assumes the now stereotypical gait and a clandestine performance begins, rather quietly and at a nervous pace.
What then develops is a sturdy presentation of an abridged text, occasionally interrupted by the menacing sounds of barking dogs, loud bangs on the door (which is monitored via CCTV) and patrolling helicopters overhead, all adding intensity and suspense, in what is a highly stylised production.
The cast speak in a broad range of accents, that dip and change as characters and alliances change.
The abridgements work well, as do some deft touches of theatrical shorthand – taking glasses on and off to demonstrate a quick-change between multiple characters played by a single actor.
Some key set piece moments do not really catch fire and we feel little for Clarence (Matt Edgerton) as he hurtles towards his death. Also the build up of circumstances towards Bosworth Field is rushed through and barely indicated.
As King Richard III, while beautifully spoken and with a very expressive face, Mark Kilmurry portrays him as shallow, calculating and manipulative rather than darkly villainous, and it is hard to care for him. The King’s wooing of Lady Anne is played straight and with plenty of feeling. This is in contrast with some of the set piece/famous monologues which did leave me unmoved.
Danielle Carter of the exquisite alabaster skin was tremendous as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Edward. I liked the effect for the Princes in the Tower of having them in brightly striped, very posh school blazers and boaters, but it also in some ways made them look like a vaudeville act.
Patrick Dickson as Buckingham gives a strong, splendid performance. Matt Edgerton is terrific in his many roles as assorted characters. Amy Mathews was most impressive.
At the finale, Kilmurry pauses for a tense, dangerous moment. He looks at the crown. He then drags on his coat. The ominous helicopter sounds increase in volume and appear to be coming much closer. He grabs a piece of chalk, defiantly writes the date, hurriedly scribbles ”Richard III” and vanishes out the door. They were there and this performance happened. We, the audience, were with them.
Running time – roughly 2 and a half hours including one interval.
”RICHARD III” runs at the Ensemble until July 19 and then transfers to play at the Parramatta Riverside theatre between July 22 and 26 .
The black and white keys on Paul McCartney’s piano keyboard may play in perfect harmony however it sure is not the case with the black and white characters in American playwright Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama, CLYBOURNE PARK. Instead, they live in a constant state of tension and power struggle
In Act 1, set in 1959 in Chicago, a property in a white neighbourhood is sold by a grieving family. At the eleventh hour, a neighbour, a leading citizen in the community, begs the man of the house not to sell. He has heard that the house is being bought by a black family and this just isn’t acceptable…
In Act 2, set some fifty years later, in the very same block, a descendant from the black family who took over the house is fighting her hardest to stop a white family from redeveloping the property as a white mansion, in what has become a black neighbourhood.
Norris’s play is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Tanya Goldberg’s production for the Ensemble Theatre, her first, generates plenty of heat.
Each of the cast play multiple roles. Favourite portrayals:- Richard Sydenham as the grieving, bitter father, Paula Arundell as the polite house-maid, seething inside, Briallen Clarke as a subservient, nerdy wife, and Nathan Lovejoy who plays the bigoted white male role frighteningly well.
Tobhiyah Feller’s set design expressively lands the audience in the middle of the action, – Act 1, a living room in disarray with a family on the move. Act 2- a construction zone, again everything in disarray, waiting for a fresh start.
The Ensemble season of CLYBOURNE PARK, finishing on April 19, is already a sell-out. The Company has announced two further dates at the Concourse at Chatswood on April 23 and 24.
David Auburn’s PROOF takes us into a young woman’s world as she reaches a significant milestone in her life, turning a quarter of a century. Joining Catherine (Matilda Ridgway) in her birthday celebrations is her estranged stocks analyst sister, Claire (Catherine McGraffin), who travels from New York, Catherine is based in Chicago, and a new beau, Hal (Adriano Cappelletta). Absent is her irascible, brilliant Mathematic professor father, Robert (Michael Ross), who recently passed away after a long battle with mental illness.
During the performance of RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN, I occasionally averted my gaze from the action taking place on stage to look across at other audience members to take in their reactions. I noticed some people shuffling around in their seats.
When the play ended, even before the cast had completed their curtain calls, I saw one couple start to leave. It felt like they were registering some sort of protest.
Not surprising, really. American playwright Gina Gionfriddo’s play RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN (the title comes from a typically abrasive Courtney Love song), which the playwright herself has described as, ‘a play about the state of male/female relationships at this particular time’, is a gutsy, even at times controversial play, meant to shake audiences up, more than a little. Here’s an extract:-
“ Avery: Drink is your body under the influence of alcohol and love is your body under the influence of hormones. Booze, sex, hormones…they do the same thing which is dupe you into thinking average people are great.
Catherine: What a grim philosophy.
Avery: I’m a Bio major. Evolutionary? It makes total sense. The love drink lasts about six months. Just enough time to get knocked up and trapped.”
RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN cleverly mixes a discourse on feminism and its place in the modern world with the playing out of a whirlwind reunion between old friends. She does so through the journey of her main character, Catherine (Georgie Parker). Forties something academic and talk show celebrity Catherine returns to New York to her ailing mother, Alice (Diane Craig). Whilst in NY she reunites, after over ten years, with her best friend, Gwen (Anne Tenney) and Gwen’s husband, Don (Glenn Hazeldine), who used to be her boyfriend.
During her stay, Catherine decides to run a summer class on feminism from her mother’s home. She ends up having only two students, Gwen, and Gwen and Don’s former babysitter, precocious, outspoken university student, Avery (Chloe Bayliss). Lively discussions ensue whilst Alice makes martinis for everyone and chips in with the occasional comment.
What stands out about RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN is that here is a playwright getting the audience to look at some of the big social issues happening right now. Like any drama worth seeing, the play asks questions, amongst them…How well do all the bold feminist texts and ideas stand up in the present day? What is going to be the social impact of the voyeuristic content that is freely available on the internet? Is the choice for women between family and career getting more and more difficult? Aren’t we weakening our relationships when we put so many expectations on our partners?
Sandra Bates directs the play’s Australian production well. One suspects that it won’t be long before other theatre companies tackle this piece.
The play offers good roles all round and the cast deliver. Georgie Parker is great in the lead as Catherine, Anne Tenney plays her best friend, the more conservative Gwen, the ever reliable Glenn Hazeldine plays Gwen’s husband, Don, who lives his life out in a second gear ‘fog’, Chloe Bayliss is tremendous as the tough talking but warm hearted Avery, and Diane Craig is well cast as Catherine’s wise cracking mum, Alice.
Recommended, Sandra Bates’s production of Gina Gionfriddo’s RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN is playing the Ensemble Theatre, 78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli until Saturday December 7.
If you want an exciting experience for your children during the school holidays, take them to see A YEAR WITH FROG & TOAD at the Ensemble Theatre. The young audience yesterday were mesmerised throughout the show’s 60 minute duration.
The play had its first run in 2008 at the Ensemble, winning the GLUGS Award for Best Children’s Production. Director Anna Crawford has brought back her enigmatic and delightful show for a return season.
The cast are all very competent actors, singers and dancers.
The timid and cautious Toad (played by Jay James-Moody) is reluctant to come out of winter hibernation and is goaded by the swashbuckling and adventurous Frog (played by Stephen Anderson) to greet the spring. They are visited by an amusing and colourful array of forest creatures,– (played with great flair by Jonathon Freeman, Crystal Hegedis and Lizzie Mitchell) – the elegant birds, the meddling moles, a mouse, a turtle and the hilarious snail with mail – played appropriately with a slow southern USA drawl by Jonathon Freeman.
The play originated on Broadway, followed by its world premiere in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It has had 3 Tony Award nominations in the USA, including Best Musical and Best Original Score.
Crawford has put together a great crew. A fabulous set by Anna Gardiner, razor sharp choreography by Shondelle Pratt, atmospheric and beautiful lighting by Matthew Marshall, fine costumes by Margaret Gill and sound design by Daryl Wallis.
The dialogue and song lyrics are simple, clever and easy for children to digest. It is a show well worth seeing.
A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD plays at the Ensemble Theatre from Sunday September 29th to Sunday October 13th.
Most of us have been camping at least once in our lives, vulnerable to erratic weather and ghoulish nocturnal animals.
Gary Baxter’s new play, CAMP, which opened at the Ensemble Theatre last night, delves boldly into the despair, disunity and desperation of a group of friends eager to unwind in an over-popular and noisy camping site.
We meet the argumentative and stressed couple, Maggie and Jack, (played enthusiastically by Michelle Doake and David Terry), so disorganised, they have to borrow much of their tenting gear. Jack, however, manages to remember to bring copious amounts of alcohol.
In contrast, easy-going couple Cynthia (Karen Pang), breadwinner of the household, and droll and amusing Danny (Ben Ager), happy househusband, are mostly oblivious to the problems around them, bringing much needed peace amongst the trauma.
Both of these couples are accompanied by their children who remain offstage. This works well as we hear their occasional voiceovers.
Our third couple is the funny and compulsively neurotic Peter – “where’s my hammer!” – (played with some great comic moments by Jamie Oxenbould), and his professional housewife spouse, Julie (Jennifer Corren), striving to live with her husband’s timetable.
Not all three married couples are happy. Their marital problems are not extensively explored, but remain secondary to the farcical, almost slapstick genre of this play. The humour of turmoil in a supposed ideal holiday gone wrong. Some of the argument scenes could perhaps be pulled back in volume and intensity to reach their maximum effect.
People will identify with CAMP, the human error that plagues us, especially at critical times. Those who love or hate camping will remember the uplifting spirit of adventure and the downright annoying obstacles that occur in the outdoors – sharing the showers, the incongruent weather, the exposure to neighbourly noise – it’s all here in Baxter’s play, drawn from his own personal experience. The play is directed with great energy and verve by Mark Kilmurry.
The lighting by Matthew Marshall is superb, the warm sunsets, the glow from inside the campervan. So too is the set design by Anna Gardiner, very Australian landscape colours and props, which lend themselves to such a recognisably Australian play.
The appropriate choice of music, from modern to bombastic, was well orchestrated by Daryl Wallis.
Gary Baxter’s CAMP runs at The Ensemble Theatre from Thursday September 26th to Saturday October 26th.
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