Brave New World (King’s: 29 September – 3 October ’15)

Photos: Touring Theatre Consortium Company

Photos: Touring Theatre Consortium Company

“Trim, bold and emphatic”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

This is a didactic staging of a hugely instructive book, so here are two questions from the lecture theatre: how near do you like your future and do you shop in ‘lower caste stores’? For me the answers are (i) pretty close and (ii) it depends.

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, which seems a long time ago, but he was seriously long-sighted and along with keen definition came the vision thing. OK, his Doors of Perception (1954) is a mescaline trip but he really did see what might be and his World State is bad and appalling, unless that is ‘You’re worth it’, in which case you might love to bits its mind-numbing, slogan-ridden lifestyle.

As for the second question, I bought some excellent coffee at ALDI last week and am very pleased with my jacket from Tu Clothing at Sainsburys, which by Huxley’s reckoning makes me a quantifiable Delta. Naturally part of the ‘fun’ of reading Brave New World is knowing that at least you’re not an Epsilon-Minus lift operator.

Huxley’s story, this play, is about misfits in the sorted, post-apocalyptic society. Bernard is a maladjusted Alpha-Plus psychologist who sees his way to a snappy suit by introducing John, an impure bred, unconditioned primitive, to his lords and masters. Or rather to Margaret, Margaret Mond, Regional World Controller. Lenina, a Beta-Plus lab technician with dodgy longings for a monogamous relationship, joins Bernard on the visit to the Savage Reservation to look at those unfortunates, who still suffer childbirth, disease and aging and who still experience family, love and heartbreak. There they find John and bring him and his mother home to London. It all gets messy when John claims his right to be unhappy.

Mond (Sophie Ward) and John (William Postlethwaite)

Mond (Sophie Ward) and John (William Postlethwaite)

Dawn King’s adaptation of Huxley’s text is trim, bold and emphatic. Its Display settings are, if you like, maxed out: Bernard is so inadequate that voice recognition software won’t recognise him; Lenina is sweetly confused; Mond has an answer for everything and John would take an axe to the whole ignoble shebang. He won’t take soma though – a legal high gone stratospheric – or sex gum, which is a relief.

There is a whole new order to configure here so it is unsurprising that video, lighting and sound provide illustration and support for the ten strong cast. There are multiple screens, helicopter rides and ‘feelie’ films and an immodest electronic score by ‘These New Puritans’ that all make the use of a centre stage curtain look decidedly old-fashioned, if not clumsy.

There is no hiding, either, of the pared down script and my unfortunate impression was of good actors managing one educative but end-stopped line after another. Flow was there none. On the other hand, and to be fair, I read Brave New World so many times when I was at school that I’m a fastidious, prose bound geek and anyway Huxley’s narrative is ‘set’ on information overload. Nevertheless, I did like William Postlethwaite’s tousle-haired John, with his subversive use of Shakespeare. Even the uber-cool Mond (a poised Sophie Ward) would have him, which is way beyond Huxley; but Scott Karim as the rebel writer Helmholtz really isn’t given enough to say.

So, fittingly enough, this is Brave New World encapsulated as feature drama. It is a little plastic, a little lurid, but still potent.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 29 September)

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All My Sons (King’s: 22 – 26 September ’15)

Robbie Jack as Chris. Photo. Rapture Theatre.

Robbie Jack as Chris.
Photo. Rapture Theatre.

“From event to moral consequence to personal calamity”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Edinburgh theatregoers can salute one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights this week, as Scottish company Rapture Theatre bring Arthur Miller’s All My Sons to the King’s Theatre. Marking the end of their month-long tour of Scottish cities, Rapture’s production does not disappoint and ensures that Miller’s 1947 play still hits home. This week’s breaking news of Volkswagen AG marketing dodgy car engines in US  is an unlooked for dividend. At the heart of Miller’s plot are faulty cylinder heads shipped out to the Pacific ‘theatre’ during WWII. High diesel emissions don’t kill outright but Joe Keller’s cracked engine blocks killed twenty-one pilots.

The backyard set is minimal, portable yet effective, and closes tight around the Kellers as the story is stitched together. It felt a little uncomfortable at first but grew familiar, with more ‘give’ as the actors took hold. Paul Shelley as Joe Keller gives a commendable performance in that epitome of Miller roles: the grafter with no college education behind him who has managed to make it from shop floor to Board room. It is easy to believe in the image of the honest family man but that only adds to the effect of the sudden breakdown in relations with his second son, Chris. Equally credible, but with good reason, Trudie Goodwin is the heartbroken Kate Keller, a mother unwilling to accept the fact that her first son, Larry, did not come marching home. That grim acronym ‘MIA’, missing in action, is stamped all over the fate of Mr and Mrs Keller.

Robert Jack’s portrayal of Joe’s son Chris is especially notable and is the role to underline. A far cry from his Jacko in Gary: Tank Commander, Jack’s performance grows through each scene and his electric presence on stage is almost palpable. Deliberately more contained in the first act, Jack developed Chris’ character in such a way that the audience couldn’t help but be drawn into his hope for love, and subsequent devastation at the discovery of his father’s actions.

Throughout the play, sound effects are used to bring back the past as characters are reminded of their time as children back home in the yard. While an interesting idea, this often sounded clunky, and the nostalgia broke off from the rest of the production.

Despite some disappointing and/or distracting American accents from supporting cast members, which is often a big ask to get right, director Michael Emans does deliver the goods. The three central performances by Shelley, Goodwin and Jack are well sustained and the ‘unwinding’, as Miller put it, from event to moral consequence to personal calamity is unforgiving and inescapable.

Rapture Theatre are currently showcasing their Arthur Miller season in Scotland and will be at Summerhall with The Last Yankee next month.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Rachel Cram  (Seen 22 September)

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‘Yer Granny’ (King’s: 2 – 6 June ’15)

Gregor Fisher as Granny. Photography: Manuel Harlan

Gregor Fisher as Granny.
Photography: Manuel Harlan

“A performance of grotesque delights”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

This is a rollicking and roiling mix. The Russo family grew up with Fritto Misto and Potato Croquettes but it has all gone belly up since then. Their chip shop closed two months ago and perky Cammy is scraping a living out of his old burger van. There is no De’Longhi Deep Fryer on the worktop, just a hazardous barrel drum of cooking oil downstage right. Halfway to tragic maybe, but I took my seat to the whooping sound of Slade’s Mama Weer All Crazee Now, which (looking back) is one lurid invitation to excess. “Don’t stop now a c-‘mon” is what happens next and it’s flammable fun.

Writer Douglas Maxwell has lifted Roberto Cossa’s La Nona from Buenos Aires in 1977 and puts it down in Glasgow in the exact same year. Cue the glam soundtrack of the late 70s with Mrs Thatcher warming up and set that against the dismal fortunes of famiglia Russo; not that dizzy Marissa (20) knows any Italian beyond “Ciao” but at least she’s bringing home some cash. Best not ask what her boyfriend is selling to the kids in the high rise flats. Her uncle Charlie is definitely not making it as a composer, although his aunty Angela has high hopes for him. She hears his bedsprings squeaking rhythmically at night, you understand. Marie, Cammy’s wife and Marissa’s mother, is keeping the home together but is screaming inside, not least when the Bay City Rollers are playing Money Honey. And that leaves Nana, 100 years old, a metre wide, and yer granny at the maw of Hell. Against Nana, no jar of mayonnaise is safe, no food bank secure.

Gregor Fisher, as Nana, puts in a performance of grotesque delights. He growls Glaswegian gobbets, waddles athletically, and reaches for the digestives behind the clock with unflinching courage. The audience actually feels for the old glutton as she balances on the step stool. The family chippy was ‘The Minerva’ but that didn’t last. Nana is the awful immortal here. Invoke her, if you dare, by calling out “Anymare?” Ironic that the Romans got around to seeing Nemesis, aka Nana, as the maiden goddess of proportion.

Barbara Rafferty as Aunt Angela

Barbara Rafferty as Aunt Angela

Maureen Beattie as Marie

Maureen Beattie as Marie

Considerable credit therefore to Maxwell’s adaptation and to Graham McLaren’s direction for ensuring that Nana does not swallow the whole play. Cammy (Jonathan Watson) gives us two hilarious spiels of HM the Queen in his shop – reopened for business. He’s a proud Unionist is our Cammy but still manages to tell the sovereign to bugger off. She, for good measure, calls him a fanny. By contrast, Maureen Beattie is serene and strong as Marie and would save them all if only her good sense got the respect it deserved. Unfortunately that’s unlikely to begin with and downright impossible when sensitive brother-in-law Charlie (Paul Riley) has a mad and smutty idea. Enter very slowly rival fish bar owner Donnie Francisco (Brian Pettifer) halfway through the second act who, together with Barbara Rafferty’s amphetamine addled Angela, creates category one scatological bedlam. Suddenly poor, obliging Marissa (a great turn by Louise McCarthy) has a lot on her plate too. Never, ever, will chips and cheese pass my mouth and the wonderful Singing Kettle’s You Cannae Shove Yer Granny Aff a Bus has all gone to pot.

Brian Pettifer (l) as Donnie Francisco  with Jonathan Watson (r) as Cammy.

Brian Pettifer (l) as Donnie Francisco with Jonathan Watson (r) as Cammy.

My favourite (after Susi Quatro)? Donnie’s ‘It’s no that I dinae go fur older women … Mrs Robertsons (sic)? I love a Mrs Robertson so I dae. But surely to Christ there’s an upper limit on Robertsons?’

I enjoy eating at Nonna’s Kitchen on Morningside Road but that’s nothing to what Yer Granny serves up of West Kilbride. This National Theatre of Scotland production is a feast of Scottish comedy: clever and exquisitely tasteless.



Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 2 June)

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‘Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense’ (King’s: 11 – 16 May ’15)

Robert Webb as Bertie Wooster and Jason Thorpe as Jeeves. Photos: Hugo Glendinnig

Robert Webb as Bertie Wooster and Jason Thorpe as Jeeves.
Photos: Hugo Glendinnig

“I laughed so much I was reprimanded by the woman in the seat in front for being too loud.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

I’ll admit, I wasn’t a massive fan of Peep Show when it was out (is it still out?), and being of a certain age (in my twenties), I can’t say I’m particularly au fait with the works of P G Wodehouse. Therefore, my expectations in going to see a period potpourri starring Robert Webb weren’t particularly high. But what a comedy it is!

As the curtain rose to a near bare set with Webb postulating alone, it could easily have turned into a rather self-indulgent affair; but the snappy delivery of some great one-liners, commanding physicality and fine character acting from the three actors were all top notch. It is anything but a one-man show.

The script (created by the Goodale Brothers from original Wodehouse works) and the concept are charmingly British and brilliantly written for the stage. The scenes move at a cracking pace and individual moments of lyrical wit are delivered with comic perfection all the way through. While the first half is more about word play and establishing a tone, the second half raises the game – and then some – by introducing elements of farce that are so well pitched as to make them outrageous but not clichéd.

The hilarity is at its peak when the numerous ‘others’, played by Jason Thorpe and Christopher Ryan, start to overlap in the same scenes. One particular highlight is when Ryan, playing two characters at the same time (one male, one female) holds a quick-fire argument with him/herself, without slipping out of either character for a second. Fabulous! I think this was when the lady in the seat in front of me turned around to reprimand me for laughing too loudly. But I was far from alone in my gutsy chortling.

Christopher Ryan as Seppings.

Christopher Ryan as Seppings.

The slickness of the costume changes and clever use of the impressive set made the piece feel very professional and daring (reminiscent of shows such as Noises Off at the Old Vic in 2013). The smashing of the ‘fourth wall’ gives the piece a contemporary blast, without losing anything of its finesse. It was particularly enjoyable being able to watch the cast do their own sound effects at times, with ne’er a thought for boring naturalism.

Any faults? If one were to be really picky, perhaps it was a little shouty at times, and the narrative got itself somewhat confused in all that dash and panache. But that is literally it. The whole show is a corking romp through the best of polite British comedy, superbly acted and with enough laughs to cheer even the grumpiest of young grumps.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 11 May)

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‘Birdsong’ (King’s: 21 – 25 April ’15)

Edmund Wiseman as Stephen Wraysford and Emily Bowker as Isabelle Azaire. Photos: Jack Ladenburg

Edmund Wiseman as Stephen Wraysford and Emily Bowker as Isabelle Azaire.
Photos: Jack Ladenburg

“More resonant than sword waving in front of machine guns”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars Nae Bad

If you can bear a literary introduction read Sassoon’s The Redeemer and Owen’s Strange Meeting before the show. If not, just take this from Issac Rosenberg’s Returning, we hear the Larks:

‘Death could drop from the dark
As easily as song –
But song only dropped’

Which is what you do get in this moving if fitful adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong. There is lovely singing and there are skylarks – but there is also a rat on a bayonet, blood dripping down 60 feet, and furious bombardment.

This is poignant and dramatic storytelling by the Original Theatre Company. Yes, Faulks’ book is blasted open in Rachel Wagstaff’s new version for the stage and at times the effect is not pretty, parts do fall away and some of the shoring up looks shaky but I reckon that’s inevitable. The back set is a high rampart of shattered wood and piled debris. Two large timbers make a cross that rises above the parapet in a stark reminder that Christ had one hell of a job to do on the Western Front. Men pray in this play, which is not at all what I remember from the book, and it is horribly easy to understand why. That green hill is not so far away and might well be undermined by tons of explosive that will send you to kingdom come.

What I do recall from Faulks’ pages are sex and war story content of frightful detail and claustrophobic novelty. Well, the sex is still around but the novelty has gone because even if you do not know the book there’s the two-part tv. series with Eddie Redmayne and the Australian film Beneath Hill 60. Tunnelling onto and about the stage aint the same but the sappers do a brave job of crawling by (electric) candlelight. They ‘Play Fritz’ and imagine the lives of the enemy, who may only be a few feet away, below, above, or ahead. There’s suspense to be had before an attack tunnel breaks through or a detonation shakes the walls and then there’s rushing confusion. Nevertheless, the best action stays with the characters.

Peter Duncan as Jack Firebrace and Liam McCormick as Arthur Shaw

Peter Duncan as Jack Firebrace and Liam McCormick as Arthur Shaw

With a name like Jack Firebrace we’re close to plain allegory. Peter Duncan plays him admirably as sturdy, loving, dauntless . The short scenes when this former London Tube tunneller and his best mate, Arthur Shaw (Liam McCormick), share letters and thoughts of home are possibly the most affecting in the play. What is more intense but – it seems – far less mature is the love affair between Stephen Wraysford, 20, (Edmund Wiseman) and Isabelle Azaire, 27 (Emily Bowker). The individual performances are easily good enough to make this believable in the moment but it is a stretch to see it played out over eight years, from 1910 to 1918. The flashbacks flare and are gone and you can almost see the narrative being shovelled in before the light vanishes. A final, near wordless, scene when the cast of Stephen’s lacerated memories people the stage is a welcome coup d’oeil upon the whole ghastly shebang.

Arguably a resurrection is being played out: of Stephen’s passionate love and of his war – that’s understood; but it is also an appeal to stand by what is now out of living memory. Hence the really telling effect in this production of folk song, hymn and psalm, beautifully sung by James Findlay ; a cut above and much more resonant than sword waving in front of machine guns, more so even than a Tommy / Hun hug of reconciliation. For what Wagstaff has crafted from Faulk’s book and what director Alastair Whatley turns out on stage is a theatrical ‘Stand to’ – to guard against what Stephen kept close in his coded notebook and is now given voice:

James Findlay as Cartwright, Singer and Musician

James Findlay as Cartwright, Singer and Musician

‘No child or future generation will ever know what this was like. They will never understand … We will seal what we have seen in the silence of our hearts and no words will reach us’.

You might simply want to accept Stephen’s commanding officer’s invitation to join him for tea on the Royal Mile when ‘this’ is all over. Or you can talk about ‘Birdsong’, which would be better.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 22 April)

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‘Twelve Angry Men’ (King’s: 23 – 28 February ’15)

“Such astute casting goes to show why people go to shows produced by Bill Kenwright.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

What is the surest way to provoke a fist fight amid the genteel splendour of London’s Garrick Club? You could start by loudly telling the one about the Earl of Grantham and the absolutely fabulous Fashion Director – that gets the members catty quick.

To really get them mad, try suggesting that John Laurie must have been better as Shakespeare’s Lear than as Dad’s Army’s Private Frazer. Tables will upturn, CP will get some poor sod in a headlock, NG’s eyes will be rolling as he bellows “We’re aul doom’d” in his best attempt at a Hebridean accent, the ghosts of JMB and AAM will appear, searching out suitable opportunities to glass someone with a broken bottle.

Then again, if you really want the furniture flying through the Irving Room, declare that Tom Conti is the definitive Jeffrey Bernard (which he is – so shut it before I shove this portrait of Dame Nellie Melba where the footlights don’t shine).

Seeing Conti in the titular role of Keith Waterhouse’s masterpiece, and as Joseph in Jesus My Boy, defined my ‘90s adolescent infatuation with theatre. Would seeing him tread the boards years later be like sneakily looking up the school totty on Facebook, only to discover they’ve now got more kids than teeth? No. Conti’s as awesome as ever. As the enigmatic naysayer in Reginald Rose’s jury room classic he does for the part of Juror 8 what Costas did for Shirley Valentine on that Greek boat. Conti lightly leads a heavyweight cast through a meaty narrative.

It’s the story of 12 strangers deciding the outcome of a murder trial. The wheels of justice are in motion, the defendant is on his way to the chair, when a lone voice drops a little doubt into a sea of certainty.

Originally shown on US television in 1954, the script of Twelve Angry Men calls for an up close and personal approach to blocking in order that each juror’s thinking can be established, examined and evolved. Michael Pavelka’s design places much of the action on an imperceptibly revolving platform. Turning the table at which the actors sit neatly enables us to see the tables turned on their characters’ prejudices. The effect is not unlike watching the dog drift off to sleep. His eyes don’t suddenly close, they slide shut slowly, languorously, until suddenly he’s chasing rabbits in the Land of Nod.

I’ve been lucky enough to see David Calvitto catch his share of rabbits at Fringes past. The grace and insight which are his trademarks are perfectly suited to Rose’s Juror 2 – the quiet man who up with this will no longer put. Alexander Forsyth (Juror 5, young) and Paul Beech (Juror 9, old) bookend the group’s age spectrum. Beech’s conversion to doubt is calm and collected, while Foryth’s is the opposite. Perhaps the appeal of Twelve Angry Men endures because it provides a showcase for such raw and careworn performances each alike in dignity.

Dignity is not high on the list of words used to describe bigoted Juror 10. Having lambasted the dignity of others in a hate-fueled tirade directed at the unseen defendant, the advocate for a lynching is hung out to dry when basic decency takes a stand. Included in Denis Lill’s unflinchingly delivery of the part is a degree of pathos unexpected as it is thought-provoking. With this powerful and emotive character study Lill digs out the intellectual foundations on which the final scenes will later rest.

This British production of an American classic superbly catches the rampant class conflict of a drama in which every juror is a king, but no man wears a crown. When Andrew Lancel (Juror 3, the opinionated businessman) locks horns with Mark Carter (as Juror 6, the blue-collar house painter) the tension is ratcheted up notch by furious notch. Such astute casting goes to show why people go to shows produced by Bill Kenwright (an Honorary Prof at TVU when Pater was VC).

Equally inspired is Edward Halsted (Juror 11, the new American). The decision not to reimagine the play in a more contemporary setting opens the goal for Halsted to strike at the original post-war, Cold War totalitarian milieu. Although my companion reckons he’s more Pete Campbell than Don Draper, Gareth David-Lloyd (Juror 12) is the Mad Menic icing on the period cake.

If there is a broad range of acting styles on show, there is also serious depth. Robert Duncan (Juror 4) is the shadow contrasting Conti’s light. Duncan’s not the shouty one, he’s not the juror with the biggest chip on his shoulder, but he is the one Conti needs to beat. Juror 4 is a self-assured stockbroker who doesn’t have a ball game to watch (as does the fabulously flighty Sean Power, Juror 7). He’s got all the time in the world. Conti’s character grinds down the others, the mortar, but it’s Duncan’s guy whose opposition is solid. The cast photo adorning the theatre programme and posters suggest to expect Conti v. Lancel. In actuality it’s Conti v. Duncan, theirs is the dynamic around which the rest orbit.

My aunt (the one who chews broken bottles and makes saltwater crocodiles cry real tears) shows Twelve Angry Men in her RE classes. It’s a morality play in which you might be watching an innocent man set free, or a juvenile delinquent get away with murder. It might be about frailty or egotism, certainty or doubt. What this production absolutely is, to paraphrase Duncan in Drop The Dead Donkey, is a raft for top quality character acting, several rafts in fact, lashed together into a “pontoon of excellence.”



Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 23 February)

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‘Sister Act’ (King’s: 18 – 21 February ’15)



Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Nae Bad 

‘The Bohemians’, established in 1909, are one of Edinburgh’s major amateur musical companies.

Sister Act was one of the first DVDs I was ever given as a child. There was always a magic to the film that I adored and Whoopi Goldberg never failed to have me dancing and singing along with the other nuns. Cheri and Bill Steinkellner adapted the Whoopi Goldberg classic for stage; something I am so glad they did. Bohemians’ director Colin Cairncross took on the challenge, bringing to the stage a production full of vivacity and talent. For an amateur production, this show really did impress.

Ian Monteith-Mathie took on the role of Musical Director for this production and worked with Alan Menken’s music score to create a beautiful sound from the performers – the harmonies in the full cast numbers were incredible. His orchestra carried the cast through the show in funky rhythms and soulful melodies.

Niloo-Far Khan took a walk in Whoopi’s shiny heeled boots as Deloris Van Cartier and commanded stage with ease. Vocally, her performance was faultless and she gave great gusto to her character. Her on-stage rapport with Mother Superior – portrayed by Dorothy Johnstone – was as entertaining as it was electric. The pair shone in the spotlight as they battled to prove the other wrong before finally reconciling their differences. Johnstone carried a wisdom about her that was evident in both action and song and her protective instincts towards the nuns shone through. It was truly delightful to witness the transformation of the choir of nuns – the resulting musicality from the hard work of Deloris (and Monteith-Mathie) raised hairs on the neck. It was, for lack of a better word, divine.

Officer Eddie Souther lamented that he “Could Be That Guy” and if he was referring to a talented singer and a joy to watch on stage, then Gareth Brown certainly was “that guy”. His soft, awkward character was greatly set against the imposing Curtis Jackson. Padraig Hamrogue’s portrayal of Curtis was reminiscent of the black and white gangster movies – his menacing demeanour coupled with a bluesy bass range created an imposing mobster who demanded respect through fear. His three henchmen, Joey, TJ and Pablo juxtaposed his dark humour by lighting the stage with their comical desperation to please their boss. Thomas MacFarlane, Lewis McKenzie and Andrew Knox really threw themselves into their characters and greatly entertained the audience with their antics – their song, “Lady in the Long Black Dress”, was hysterical, offering the comic trio a real chance to hustle the limelight.

The show was bathed in colour. The costumes – a superb effort from Jean Wood and Liz Kenyon – were fantastic; Lighting Designer Jonnie Clough filled the stage with a complex programme of spotlights, colourwashes and dazzling effects. The set design from UK Productions Ltd, although perhaps too large and busy for the stage space, was certainly impressive in its detail. This production was full of glitz and glamour; even the nuns were able to lose the basic black habit for something a little (or a lot) more colourful. The cast raised their voices and they raised the roof. This was an uplifting performance and a fantastic show.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Amy King  (Seen 18 February)

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