Category Archives: REVIEWS

REVIEW: Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

Sometimes a production comes along that sends you to the street with a smile on your face, The Tron Theatre Company and Blood of the Young’s Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) is one (sort of).

Promising to deliver a re-worked version of the Jane Austen classic for a 21st Century audience, it certainly delivers on that front: the five-strong, all-female cast doubling and tripling up on roles male and female; a script choc-full of clever lines; a host of visual jokes; characters clad in Regency garb belting out classic pop tunes through a karaoke machine and scoffing cereal straight from the box; social parallels (unfortunately) travelling down the 200 years since the work was written, it may well strike a chord with a youthful audience, however, the production is not without its faults.

While promoted as entertaining for those unfamiliar with the work, it could be argued that much of the humour only really hits home with a knowledge of the original text, otherwise it’s rendered surface and slapstick and while, to its credit, little of the original plot is sacrificed in this re-telling, that itself is a problem, at over two hours 45 minutes, for all its ability to entertain and amuse, it is a physical marathon.

Its greatest asset is its universally excellent cast. Meghan Tyler is a particularly appealing Lizzie and the sheer joy with which the cast tackle the lengthy script, singing and slapstick can’t fail to impress.

A brave choice for adaptation, and a largely effective and highly entertaining evening’s theatre from a top-notch cast, but far from perfect.

Runs until 14 July 2018 | Image: John Johnston

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Love From a Stranger – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Adapted from a 1934 short story Philomel Cottage, Agatha Christie wrote an unperformed stage version of the same name which itself was re-written as Love From a Stranger by actor and playwright Frank Vosper in 1936. Director Lucy Bailey, for Fiery Angel and Royal & Derngate Northampton, re-sets the action two decades later to the 1950s, all cut-glass accents and limited female opportunity.

This psychological thriller provides a great night’s entertainment, but be aware that this is a slow burn that smoulders along without ever fully bursting into flame.

Cecily Harrington (Helen Bradbury) comes up trumps in a sweepstake, and while Cecily wants to live large on her substantial winnings, her dull as ditch water fiancé Michae (Justin Avoth) arrives back from the Sudan to dash her plans and resign her to a life of domestic drudgery. When an attractive and adventurous American, Bruce Lovell (Sam Frencham) comes on the scene, Cecily’s world is turned on its head. Cecily marries Bruce, moving to an isolated cottage in the country.

The red herrings are positively scarlet. From the beginning it’s clear that Lovell isn’t what he seems. He lurks in the shadows, surreptitiously taking pictures of Cecily, sniffing her lingerie, constantly scribbling in a notebook. Moving her from friends and neighbours, the gaslighting continues until Cecily is an apparent puppet in Lovell’s hands, but all is never as it seems on the surface with Christie. As the tension builds and perspectives change, we are entertainingly led along the crooked path that Christie is so well known for.

This entire production is quite obviously influenced by Michael Powell’s 1960 British cinema classic, Peeping Tom. The sense of unease is cleverly created on Mike Britton’s sliding wall set with opaque panels where we can watch Lovell’s voyeuristic goings-on. Richard Hammarton’s sound design and Oliver Fenwick’s crimson-tinged lighting are characters in themselves, helping to ramp up the creeping tension.

The cast are uniformly solid given how affected the original dialogue sounds to an audience’s modern ear and the ‘heightened’ characterisations skirt (just) on the right side of caricature.

Christie rarely puts a foot wrong, and as a piece of ‘good, old-fashioned’ entertainment it is undoubtedly a winner.

Runs until 30 June 2018 | Image: Contributed, review originally written for The Reviews Hub

 

REVIEW: The Band – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Firstly, a fact needs to be stated that this is not the Take That story. The words Take That are never uttered in the entire two and a half hours of the show. You would also be mistaken for thinking that the boyband recruited from the BBC reality show Let It Shine were the crux of the production, and while they feature large, they are far from the centre of the story.

Instead, it’s a story of five friends that spans 25 years. A story of growing up, love and loss, opportunity unfulfilled, of hope, peppered throughout with the hits of the biggest British boy band of the past quarter of a century. It is also more story with music rather than jukebox musical.

Writer Tim Firth clearly has the target demographic in his sights. The mature version of these 90s teens are the heart of the show. Take That the soundtrack to their lives. The pop culture references abound: Smash Hits posters on bedroom walls, Top of the Pops, Ceefax, cassette taping Top of the Pops, it unashamedly taps into the unquenchable thirst for nostalgia.

This is clearly a show of two halves: the central quartet of Heather (Emily Joyce), Rachel (Rachel Lumberg), Claire (Alison Fitzjohn) and Zoe (Jayne McKenna) are fine actresses with a wealth of talent, and it is only when the story fully centres on this quartet that it achieves any real depth. Tim Firth’s dialogue for the mature characters is utterly believable, it is less so for their teenage versions, where it is largely contrived and one-dimensional.

The quartet’s younger selves are played by Katy Clayton (Heather), Faye Cristall (Rachel), Sarah Kate Howarth (Claire) and Lauren Jacobs (Zoe) with Rachelle Diedricks as teenage pal Debbie. Their schoolgirl antics, while familiar, are a tad contrived and their diction is poor, rendering most of the lines a garbled mush. The first half also suffers from a strange selection of Take That songs that don’t exactly fit the narrative. With a back catalogue as fine as this, the choices seem plain odd.

‘The Band’ as played by Five to Five: A.J. Bentley, Nick Carsberg, Curtis T. Johns, Yazdan Qafouri, Sario Solomon prove just how good Take That were, and still are. These songs, while seeming easy to sing, just aren’t, and the quintet while having a solid go at it, never fully do the songs justice.

For anyone who has ever seen Take That live, the set design will look familiar. The production values of the band who are the producers of the show are replicated here. It’s big and bold and the stage is jam-packed with effects.

This show has had it’s fair amount of flak, its detractors have been many, but there’s a fundamental question to be asked: are they the target audience? I am pretty sure that the producers made no claims to enlighten or educate. Indeed, the programme notes say it’s a “love letter to the fans”. It’s intended for the Take That fandom, if you’re here and you’re not a fan of Take That, I’d question your choices. Sometimes theatre is made just to be entertaining. But, this reviewer is very much the target demographic, like most of the audience, knowing the words to every one of these tunes and willing this to be a joy, and while the second half was superior to the first, it ultimately doesn’t do enough to overcome its faults. I am sure The Band will be a satisfying night’s entertainment, a piece of pure escapism and nostalgia for many and it may fulfil its brief as ‘a love letter to the fans’, but for this audience member, there are more feelings of disappointment than delight.

Runs until 7 July 2018 | Image: Matt Crockett review originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub.

 

REVIEW: Sunshine on Leith – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Stephen Greenhorn’s original musical, Sunshine on Leith, predates the movie version by seven years. Originally commissioned by Dundee Rep’s artistic director James Brining. Brining, now artistic director at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, returns to the work, breathing new life into the piece for this 2018 tour and you can almost hear the fanfare of trumpets that herald the musical’s return to its homeland.

Greenhorn’s tale is Scottish to its very core, but the themes of love, loss and opportunities taken or missed, are universal. Soldiers Davy (Steven Miller) and Ally (Paul James Corrigan) return from Afghanistan home to Leith. Ally pursues his former love Liz (Neshla Caplan), Davy, her best pal Yvonne (Jocasta Almgill), but in the joy of their return home there are problems too, not least with Davy’s parents Rab (Phil McKee) and Jean (Hilary MacLean).

The political and social climate has changed much in the 11 years since its creation, but the story still has the power to move, and it’s in no small way down to the music and lyrics of Craig and Charlie Reid. At first glance the songs of The Proclaimers may not seem like a match made in heaven for a musical, but they are. Playing a crucial part in driving the plot along. The familiarity of the lyrics to the Scottish audience, heightens the emotion in the parts of the narrative they serve to enhance. That said, the emotional moments aren’t exactly subtle, but the narrative is treated with such a deft hand and sufficient originality elsewhere, that it’s easy to forgive any tiny quibble. Greenhorn’s dialogue is pitch-perfect for this story of ‘normal’, ‘ordinary’ people, a hard thing to pull off in musical theatre and every joke lands slap-bang on its mark. Greenhorn also manages to address the eternal issue of the emotionally stunted, stereotypical Scottish man with thoughtfulness as well as humour.

Worthy of note is Emily-Jane Boyle’s outstanding choreography. It is intricate and original, but still looks like real people dancing – a feat that’s hard to achieve convincingly.

The cast are joined on the transforming pub set (comparisons will inevitably be made with the musical Once) by the seven-piece band who (as they are not hidden in the pit) bring a raw immediacy to the music. The arrangements of these familiar songs are worthy of note too: the ears pricking up at some of the original treatments of them.

Paul James Corrigan (Ally) returns to a stage he is more than familiar with and feeds off of the energy of his home crowd. There’s an extra spring in his step which transmits to the auditorium, well-known and loved for his comedy performances, he impresses as a singer and dancer too. The crowd with him every step of the way. Steven Miller (Davy) is a fine dramatic actor and has an even finer voice to match, he gets the chance to show off his comedy chops here, Jocasta Almgill is excellent as Davy’s love interest Yvonne, and Phil McKee and Hilary MacLean as Davy’s parents are perfectly played.

This story (to its credit) resists the urge to tie everything up in a neat bow and resolve every plotline, ultimately, this is a life-affirming story about ‘real lives’ that will resonate with most, if not all, of its target audience. If the eardrum bursting reaction of this audience at the end is anything to go by – it more than hit all the right notes. To borrow from The Proclaimers themselves, this is guaranteed to make your heart fly.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: The Last Ship – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Sting’s musical love song to his Tyneside homeland, The Last Ship, is in his own words to: “repay a debt” to the area he left early in his career.

Starting life unsuccessfully in the US, it finally comes home to an audience with whom the story resonates: mid-80s, Thatcherism, the Conservative pursuit of the Trades Unions and the decline of the British ship-building industry. Director Lorne Campbell has re-worked the book from its initial run and the improvements are many.

Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, two weeks shy of the completion of a commission to build a ship, the local consortium goes into receivership, the vessel, literally destined for the scrap yard. Inspired by the Clyde shipbuilders ‘work in’ of 1971, the workers, lead by shop steward Jackie White (Joe McGann) occupy the yard in order to complete the ship. Into this situation arrives Gideon Fletcher (Richard Fleeshman), home from 17 years at sea, to find Meg (Frances McNamee), the girl he left behind (unbeknownst to him, pregnant at the time), still here in town.

As evidenced by the success of Billy Elliot, with which, inevitable comparisons will be drawn, a British-specific storyline that resonates with an audience will always be a winner and it is largely thus with The Last Ship. It is nostalgic and unashamedly tugs at the heartstrings but, it is sufficiently compelling despite the message it somewhat heavy-handedly tries to hammer home. It’s not without its faults though: the hefty running time, due in no small part to an excess of songs that do little to advance the story and poor diction from a number of cast members that renders the lyrics inaudible, turn it into a theatrical endurance test at times. The plot is a slow burn and takes the entirety of the first act to establish itself. It must also be said that the characterisations are uneven, some have reasonably well-developed back stories, while others remain disappointing caricature Geordie stereotypes.

Partly inspired by Sting’s album The Soul Cages, the music is mostly original to the work. It is ballad heavy, and given the nature of the subject matter this isn’t unexpected, but many are somewhat reminiscent of each other. The melodies are unmistakably Sting. There are a few stand-outs though, the title song in particular is majestic. Where the music soars is in the choral singing, the impassioned voices which raise to fill the auditorium are undeniably beautiful. It is here that the work becomes truly stirring. The performances are universally sound throughout. Joe McGann and Penelope Woodman, playing yard foreman Jackie and his wife Peggy, are particularly worthy of note.

The set from 59 Productions is an absolute winner, the lighting by Matt Daw and the projection design is sumptuous, it’s a joy for the eyes throughout.

In Glasgow, The Last Ship is playing to a crowd who very much understand the history of the shipyards and the scars that the Conservative government rendered are still in evidence. The mentions of the Parkland students, the Irish abortion vote and the NHS are welcomed with rousing cheers. This is a work that will resonate with many, however, some judicious editing would have made for an even more powerful message hitting home.

Runs until 23 June 2018 | Image: Contributed

THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED BY THE REVIEWS HUB

REVIEW: Flight of the Conchords sing Flight of the Conchords – SEE Hydro Arena, Glasgow

It’s been a long seven years since the “almost award-winning, fourth most popular folk duo in New Zealand” have toured the U.K., made longer by Bret McKenzie’s recovery from a broken wrist, sustained from a nose dive down a flight of stairs at the start of the tour.

Flight of the Conchords have come a long, long way both physically and metaphorically. From bumbling young cult duo trying to find their niche in the comedy world to a 13000 person audience at Glasgow’s Hydro Arena via Bret McKenzie winning the 2012 songwriting Academy Award and Jemaine Clement’s glittering movie career going from strength to strength.

Their 90-minute set is a perfect mix of old and new, launching straight into Father and Son, a seemingly tender ballad that takes an unexpectedly dark turn. There are highlights throughout, so many it would read like a setlist, but Deana and Ian, a tale of inter-office romance is hysterical; The Ballad of Stana a disturbingly funny traditional country story-song; Summer of 1353, a madrigal, yes, you read that right, complete with recorder solos, and two old favourites, Bowie and Foux du Fa Fa (who doesn’t love a lyric that rhymes haricots verts with pomme de terres), the list goes on and on.

The duo acknowledge that they look a lot older than they did in their TV show days, and apologise for reminding us of our own mortality, but the wit and intellect and self-deprecating humour is still there. They remain utterly irresistible and, if anything, funnier than they have ever been. This reviewers’ love for the pair remains undiminished. Just perfect.

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Following on from the critically-acclaimed new work, The Red Shoes, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures delve deep into the back catalogue to 1997 to revive their much-loved production of Cinderella.

Re-set to World War 2, Cinderella and her shell-shocked, RAF pilot beau, meet and part during the horrors of The Blitz. The familiar elements of the story remain: the ‘wicked’ step-mother and (not so wicked) step-sisters (with a few step-brothers thrown into the mix), and while there’s no Fairy Godmother, there’s the (somewhat malevolent) platinum-haired Angel, whose sinister presence punctuates the action. Instead of facilitating the fairy-tale ending, it feels more like manipulation. The setting, and Bourne’s handling of it, perfectly encapsulates the fragility of love during wartime.

As ever, Lez Brotherston’s design is stunning, from bombed out buildings, the London Underground, the (ball substitute) evening at The Café de Paris, The Embankment to Platform 12 at Paddington Station, each element is breath-taking. The limited colour palette of greys, and blacks is darkly atmospheric and draw the eye to key features of the narrative: Cinders pure white dress, the red cape of a Red Cross nurse, it is a masterpiece of theatre design. It perfectly reflects Britain in its ‘darkest hour’. Paul Groothuis’ sound and Neil Austin’s lighting design only add to the magic.

Sergei Prokofiev’s haunting score has been edited down in Acts 1 and 2, but remains intact for Act 3. The music written contemporary to Bourne’s re-setting of the story adds a dimension of authenticity to the production. The two together a match made in heaven. It just feels right, and draws on Bourne’s own love for classic black and white movies and their music.

As with much of Bourne’s work there’s always humour to light the darkness. Including the foot-fetishist step brother, and a myriad of tiny details in both setting and action, that will raise a smile.

It’s hard to find fault in any aspect of this production, the dancers led by Ashley Shaw and New Adventures favourite Dominic North as Cinders and her Prince, are exquisite and unlike many Ballet companies, their acting ability and deftness at conveying the emotions of the story, not only match their dancing abilities but are head and shoulders above their contemporaries. Liam Mower as always leaves his mark as the Angel, as does Anjali Mehra as Sybil the exquisitely clad and coiffed, Step Mother.

With the now legendary Swan Lake to tour again next year, one can only wait with bated breath to see what new adventures are next for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures. As ever, there are never enough superlatives for this incomparable company – simply unmissable.

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

REVIEW: Nashville Live – Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Capitalising on the current insatiable appetite for all things Country and aiming to “transport you right into the heart of downtown Nashville, celebrating the atmosphere and energy of an evening in the home of country music”, Nashville Live at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall features a cast of seasoned West End performers recreating the great and the good of the country music scene.

Framed as an evening from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, where the world-famous venue broadcasts its radio show to the nation, complete with red on-air sign, silence/applause banner and peppered with vintage radio ads enacted by the cast, it’s an uneven evening that doesn’t know quite what it is.

To it’s credit the set list manages to cover an impressively comprehensive number of Country music eras and genres: Blue Moon of Kentucky sets the tone, quite literally, with heavy reverb on the microphones and slightly mushy sound mixing to start, it takes a while to get in to its stride. Robbie Durham elevates the proceedings with a duo of Hank Williams tunes, Hey Good Lookin’ and Jambalaya. However, there are technical glitches with Helena Gullen’s accompanying, silent fiddle.

Gullen tackles the incomparable Patsy Cline in Walking After Midnight and is competent, if a little lacklustre, again there are plenty of effects on the mic to support her voice, she fairs better in the classic, I Fall to Pieces. Chris Grahamson delivers Willie Nelson’s, On The Road Again and Always on my Mind and to the production’s credit, returns the anthem Crazy to its writer Nelson to deliver. Grahamson has a strong, clear voice and does justice to these well-loved tunes.

There are some unexpected detours courtesy of a few Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard songs and a bluegrass interlude, but it’s soon back to the big-hitters with Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man, Dolly Parton’s Jolene and I Will Always Love You performed by Lisa Wright. Wright has an excellent voice, but lacks rapport with the audience. Durham gets the audience singing along to Kenny Rogers’ foot stomper,The Gambler.

Robbie Durham, fresh from a London run and UK tour of Million Dollar Quartet, again plays Johnny Cash and showcases his astonishing vocal range and tone. Folsom Prison Blues and I Walk the Line are particular highlights.

Grahamson returns with Garth Brooks’ Friends in Low Places and If Tomorrow Never Comes, again, Grahamson’s rich, clear voice is a stand out among the cast.

While there’s quality throughout the cast, the staging is incongruous. While the artists are introduced as “Dolly Parton” and “Patsy Cline” the costumes for the most part are modern, and there’s no attempt to look like the artists featured save for a few shirt changes amongst the men. That coupled with the ‘radio show’ staging and the vintage adverts in between. It doesn’t work. Either full-on tribute in wigs and costume or a band of musicians just playing covers of these songs, both of these would have worked, this mash-up just confuses. While the auditorium is full, the audience are singing along, the atmosphere is ‘flat’ and there’s a LOT of chat from the audience throughout most of the ballads and the songs that are less familiar.

A great set list and some flawless vocals but the show lacks the passion and energy from the performers that marks a truly entertaining night out.

Touring Scotland – more info at: http://www.mapletreeentertainment.com/currently-touring/Nashville+Live/16/tourdates/

REVIEW: 20th Century Boy – King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Four decades after his untimely death, 20th Century Boy aims to shine a light on the man once dubbed “The Electric Warrior”, the “King of Glam Rock” and the “Godfather of Punk”, Marc Bolan. Setting out on a path for fame since childhood, the story takes us from young Marc Feld’s early years in Stoke Newington to stardom as Marc Bolan.

Bolan’s untimely death a few days shy of his 30th birthday, almost assured him a legacy as the glittering epitome of an era of excess, but it’s to its credit that 20th Century Boy is more docu-drama than jukebox musical. It shows Bolan’s failures and flaws equally as it does his triumphs and talent.

We never got the opportunity to see the ageing pop star, to see where his career trajectory would eventually take him, to see what happened when the effects of his life of excess finally took their toll. However, this musical certainly gives us a glimpse of what might have been. You see a cock-sure, but ultimately nice guy, become consumed by the self-created myth he wove around himself. To see the rise of Punk on the horizon, the uncertainty creep in as to where he could go next.

Last seen in 2011, this new, touring version of John Maher’s show has been re-written with new material added by Nicky Graham and Colin Giffin. The first act covers the early 50s to early 70s, the second, takes a darker turn towards the inevitable tragic end.

The set is simplistic but utterly effective, enhanced by projections that move the timeline along, but it’s the music that’s key and boy, is it utterly, utterly brilliant. The live musicianship is astonishing, it’s pure rock concert, not a watered-down musical theatre version of these tunes, and as a result it stands head and shoulders above its peers.

The cast is headed up by Olivier Award-winning George Maguire as Bolan. Maguire is a star, a magnetic presence in any role he tackles, and it’s no different here. A fine musician as well as actor, he manages to perfectly capture Bolan’s idiosyncrasies, as well as his distinctive voice. He achieves what every actor playing a legend dreams of doing, he makes you forget this is an actor playing a role, he IS Bolan in this show. There can be no compliment greater than to say he utterly convinces. Ellena Vincent is a strong presence as Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones as is Sarah Moss as Bolan’s wife June Child and Derek Hagan as producer Tony Visconti. But, there’s not a weak link anywhere. The choreography by Cressida Carré and its execution are faultless, neither parody or pastiche, it is utterly evocative of the eras it represents.

As with any show with a tragic ending, there really has to be an uplifting musical encore, a celebration where the audience can dance away the tears, and so we are treated to a roof-raising medley of Bolan and T-Rex’s greatest hits, so enthusiastically received, it makes the famous dress circle at The King’s Theatre literally bounce.

“Will people remember me?” a ghostly Bolan asks after the car crash that ends his life and starts this show. That this production is touring the UK 40 years after his death, filling theatres, and having people quite literally dancing in the aisles and singing every lyric, answers that question resoundingly.

This review was originally written for and published by The Reviews Hub

 

REVIEW: Maxim Vengerov with the Würth Philharmonic – Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Arguably, the greatest living string player in the world, and undoubtedly the most in-demand musician in all of classical music, Maxim Vengerov returns to Edinburgh as both soloist and conductor in this finale to the Usher Hall’s season of Sunday Classics.

In the first half, Vengerov performs one of the most popular violin concertos in the classical repertoire, and one of the best works of the Romantic period, Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor, Op. 26, in the second, conducting the newly formed Würth Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. In addition we are treated to Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Overture and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.

Under the confident baton of Stamatia Karampini, the Würth Philharmonic begin the afternoon gloriously with the overture of J. Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, the smiles that appear instantaneously on the faces of the audience, testament to both the popularity of the piece and the virtuosity with which it is played by this stunning orchestra.

When Vengerov takes to the stage, the ex-Kreutzer Stradivari in his hand, there’s no doubt who everyone is here to see, and boy does he deliver. Bruch’s Violin Concerto is already one of the greatest loved works in the repertoire, but in the hands of a maestro it is utterly ravishing. While there’s a theatricality in his playing style, there’s little interaction with the audience, that said, there’s no need, this traditional approach takes nothing away from the musical experience, and Vengerov radiates sincerity and enthusiasm from every pore. His finger work as close to perfection as it’s possible to get. As he leaves the stage at the end of the first act there’s no greater compliment than the reaction of the audience, a rousing ovation and smiles, smiles everywhere you look, proof that music has the power to change your mood, to make you feel alive.

In the second half Vengerov takes the baton, conducting the Würth in Shostakovich’s rousing Symphony No.10. Created in 2017, the 72 piece from mainly European countries, the orchestra aims to unite young musicians across the world form a virtuosic symphony orchestra and on this first hearing they have achieved this. The power of Shostakovich’s rings out throughout the auditorium, stirring the soul.

A concert programme and performance of infinite quality. A fitting end to the Usher Hall’s Sunday Classics International Concert Series, a programme of work that stirs and inspires and leaves you wanting more.

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