‘Al Murray: Gig For Victory’ (Assembly Square Gardens – Palais du Variete, until AUG 29)

“It is a joy to watch and is even better in the flesh. Go if you have the chance”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars (Outstanding)

Earlier in the week I’d attended a Fringe show. There were three of us in the audience. Two on stage. I felt for them. I’d guess they felt for me. Audience participation with three audience members his hard yakka for all concerned.

It did seem odd then that my next show was Al Murray, arguably the biggest name at this year’s Fringe. I got there half an hour early and the already the queue for the landlord snaked out of Assembly Gardens and down the roads towards Underbelly. That is the Fringe for you – in all its ridiculous sublimity. If you come to Edinburgh genuinely do try to see as much as you can – from the big names to the small, from the old to the new.

But to our tale… how do you review Al Murray? In a way it is pointless. You don’t analyse our national treasures. You bask. You understand that he is a very British sort of genius – he couldn’t have come into existence anywhere else – and you enjoy.

The crowd was large and boisterous. The circus tent in the gardens crackling in anticipation. And then it began. He ambles in from the back of the venue, gently caressing the bald heads he passes by and bounds on stage. Beer covers the first few rows. Some are surprised. Really?

And there he is before us resplendent in that burgundy blazer, swinging a pint pot, gleaming, celebrating us those that bested Covid, happily throwing crisps at an overweight man that he admits he is surprised made it through the pandemic. The yeoman of all he surveys. A man sure of his opinions but confused with how the world is going: the character is eternal.

The pandemic has been good for the landlord. He has waited all his life for this moment. Covid was as he says ‘’our blitz’’. The moment we stood as one and did our bit for Queen and Country. For the first time we join the ranks of British heroes. We, he tells us, are the survivors and he wants to learn who is in the lifeboat with him: who made it through? So much of Murray’s show is unique to the night itself.

There’s little point telling you what happened or highlight particular gags because there’s just so much audience work. There’s no one better at it. Many try. Many manage for five minutes or so… but for the majority of the show. That isn’t high-wire stuff. How anyone can elicit so many laughs from two questions: ‘’what’s your name? What do you do?’’ I’ll never know. Flitting back and forward, weaving their lives together, Ollie in the corner must know Evelyn the gynaecologist and the jaeger bomb Durham boys. The strokers who go for a wee within ten minutes. None of these people will be there tonight. They won’t happen tonight. Something though will.

Throughout the course of the evening we meet Rod in finance, Dim Dave who ‘works for a solicitor’, a sheep farmer, a slow brick maker, a family lawyer (‘and a cold wind whips through the hall”) and many more. At one point he speaks to Deborah who has a play on at the fringe about WWII. The landlord lets loose a stunning two minute summary of the relatively obscure war story the play is about and then back to the important things of talking to the audience.

Of course, the badinage ends up back to the themes of the pandemic, our leaders, our survival against the odds of Covid and in the end he moves from the audience to the central theme that the last the two years we have had to endure.

Al’s theory of how each generation is perfect for the challenges the world throws at it. Our grandparents fought Nazism singlehandedly without help whilst we rose to the challenge we faced, a challenge only our generation could face: staying in the house watching TV for four months.


Whilst being paid by the government.

Tonight’s show will be similar yet entirely different. Where he goes is entirely dependent on who shows up. Only a handful of comics could pull this sort of show off and fewer still relentlessly hit such heights.

There’s little point dwelling on the technicalities. Murray is one of the cleverest, quickest-witted comics out there. You know that. Everyone knows that. It is like explaining Monty Python or David Attenborough or David Gower’s cover drive. His character allows him to explore areas of life that others shy away from or – if they do – tend to veer to shock or righteousness.

One minor point: for an act so on the button of current affairs and with such an intuitive understanding of what the British public thinks… I was a little surprised that there was no mention (in the show I attended) of that other comedian who plays a character that happens to use the actor’s real name: Jerry Sadowitz. I’d have thought that was ripe material for the landlord particularly given some of the gags early on about the various genders of grandchildren that we might boast about our Covid heroism too.

But let’s not dwell too much on this. That is a throwaway thought rather than a criticism.

His character is timeless and needs no introduction: the garrulous British blowhard who almost knows what he is talking about and has a view about everything. It is a joy to watch and is even better in the flesh. Go if you have the chance. Just make sure you know your job and don’t try to claim you are an acrobat.

Come for the crisps being flung at you. Stay for the white wine for the lady. Get your red blazers on and join him in his lifeboat.


‘Bee Story’ (Underbelly Bristo Square Cowbarn, until AUG 28)

“Bee Story is everything you would want in a children’s show. It is charming. It is lovely. It is magical”.

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

All good things come to an end and my Edinburgh Fringe 2022 finished with Bee Story. This is an Australian non-verbal circus show… there seems to be a lot of them about this year. Have they given up on beating us at sport? Is there something different in the Vegemite? Who knows? This trend is very welcome.

So yes, I have seen a few similar shows this year. I haven’t though seen a better one. Bee Story is everything you would want in a children’s show. It is charming. It is lovely. It is magical.

I doubt there is a better opening to any Fringe show than that of Bee Story. They may return – or you may see it elsewhere – so mum is the word but the first time you see Queen Bee was a moment of stunned delight. Neither I nor my youngest could believe it nor did we guess immediately how they did it.

It doesn’t stop from there. Over the course of the next hour there are unicycles, clowning (the facial expressions are simply wonderful), juggling, juggling with knives, some astonishing floor work, ballet, physical comedy (there’s a great scene with a snake and another with a net), acrobatics, gymnastic, and buckets of fun. Neither I nor the youngster could take our eyes off it. It was as if a mini-Cirque du Soleil had landed in Bristo Square. We were far from alone: there were spontaneous rounds of applause and whooping and hollering throughout.

The team at Arc Circus – Robbie Curtis and Lizzie McRae are seriously talented. Where else will you see a woman dressed as a Queen Bee being held in a series of bizarre positions whilst playing pop songs on a flute? You know, and I know, the answer is nowhere.

We meet Queen Bee and Worker Bee. Her Royal Highness – usually accompanied by God Save The Queen – wants more honey and poor old Worker Bee is doing his darnedest to get it but can’t quite. Then, from nowhere, the hive is hit by a bushfire.

Queen Bee has to lose her heirs and graces whilst Worker Bee enjoys a new friend as they work together to build a new hive. Of course, that is harder than it looks.

A magical hour with important messages. Teamwork and collaboration matters, friendship is key, that we need to care for our environment and that bees really do matter.

There’s probably some important British-Australian analysis on overcoming class divisions too but leave that to the grown-up reviewers.

The important part was my daughter and I loved this show and she said it was her favourite of the Fringe. She particularly loved it when Queen Bee poked her toy bee with her flute. I mean, that’s the sort of wonder you only get at the Fringe… and the sort of thing that makes children fall in love with theatre. A genuinely lovely little thing that I’d recommend to anyone.

Come for the buzz. Stay for the seizing of the means of production. Get your yellow/black coats on and go see this.

‘The Elephant in the Room’ (Assembly Rooms, Powder Room, until AUG 27)

“Shetty’s vigorous physical style, expressive face, and radioactive eyes draw the audience into the action as she regularly makes direct eye-contact with everyone in the auditorium.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

After a very successful tour of the USA including the prestigious Kennedy Centre in Washington DC, this is the Fringe debut for a lively and engaging one-woman play, written and performed by Priyanka Shetty. Here for just the one week in a smallish studio auditorium in a marquee on George Street, be prepared for the driving force of Ms Shetty’s electrifyingly physical performance.

The seemingly autobiographical story tells of what it’s like to grow up in India as a young girl and then defy your family to try and make it as an actress as “a brown girl in Trump’s America”. Shetty’s vigorous physical style, expressive face, and radioactive eyes draw the audience into the action as she regularly makes direct eye-contact with everyone in the auditorium. There is much humour at the expense of the stereotypical features of a female south Asian upbringing: aggressively aspirational parents, judgemental aunts, religion (sometimes in the shape of the elephant-god Ganesha), and Bollywood movies.

Shetty makes full use of the small stage and basic set to vividly re-enact her story in a number of physical styles, including everything from yoga to Bollywood dance and song. As the show progresses, the emotional tone gradually changes from one of youthful optimism underscored by the heartaches of family life and romance, to the stark realities of the American theatre audition circuit. Shetty’s wry depiction of the serial rejections that can be experienced will raise a rueful smile to any fellow Fringe actors seeing this show. As an Asian woman, she often refers to her “otherness”, sometimes self-deprecatingly, sometimes not. This aspect of her life doubles as a significant factor in her own life story and a revealing perspective on everyone else from the perspective of an outsider.

Single-actor shows are quite common at the Fringe, but this one stuck in the mind for me due to Shetty’s often almost conversational delivery. At no time did it seem like a stagey dramatic monologue; rather someone I’d just met showing me the story of their life. Use of props and time-consuming costume changes are sensibly kept to a minimum to maintain pace and story development.

The phrase from which the show takes its title is a common metaphor for embarrassing problems which everyone knows exist, but are scared to mention. After one or two red herrings along the way, we’re left in no doubt at the end by Shetty’s now angry tone what the identity is of this particularly problematic pachyderm – I won’t spoil things for you by giving it a name. This show is only on until the end of this week, so:

Come for the elephant. Stay for a whirlwind performance. Leave having seen a great Fringe debut. So get your coats on and go see this!


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‘Earwig’ (Assembly Rooms, Front Room, until AUG 27)

“The three energetic performers beetle away to pack a lot of fun into an hour’s traffic on the stage.”

Editorial Rating:  Stars (Outstanding)

Whilst perhaps not the most attractive of titles, this is one of the most unusual and interesting pieces of theatre I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. After successfully touring throughout the UK, Manchester-based theatre company Time and Again bring us the quirky story of entomologist Marigold Webb, whose deafness excludes her from conversations not directly before her face.

Laura Crow’s script makes much use of insect life as metaphor, with characters being likened to wasps, hornets, golden tiger beetles, and the like. The production by directors Catherine Cowdrey and Samantha Vaughan offers an hour that is both entertaining and informative without taking itself too seriously. Robyn Greeves anchors the show as the protagonist, calmly and wryly narrating the difficulties faced in the 1920s by a woman who is not only deaf, but trying to make her way in the male-dominated scientific world. Adam Martin-Brooks first comes across as a Bertie Woosterish toff, but as the play progresses he mutates into Marigold’s domineering and abusive husband. Beth Nolan gives eye-catching performances as both Marigold’s down-to-earth mother and as Bryony Varden, the very personification of a flighty jazz-age flapper. A projection screen at the back of the set is used very much as if it were another character, with its captions often interacting with both the cast and the audience.

This is also a very visual and physical piece of theatre. One of the high points was a vividly choreographed set piece between Marigold and Bryony supposedly reading quietly in a library. Their exchanged looks, messages, and attempts to ignore each other and do some studying are expressed with increasingly terpsichorean verve and at one stage even break into a Charleston. Along with the screen captions, the pacy action often has the feel of a silent movie of the era in which the play is set. Throughout the action, we are subtly reminded of Marigold’s deafness and the problems it causes in a number of inventive and dramatically effective ways.

Performed in a smallish black-box auditorium in George Street, this is a little gem of a play, with the three energetic performers beetling away to pack a lot of fun into an hour’s traffic on the stage. Come for the entomology. Stay for the Charleston. Leave with ants in your pants and a spring in your step. Get your coats on and beetle along to see this!


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‘Cecil Beaton’s Diaries’ (Greenside at Nicolson Square – Lime Studio, until AUG 27)

“As we romp through the highlights and lowlights of a lively and eventful career, there is much Wodehousian whimsy and theatrical high camp to raise many a smile.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars (Nae Bad )

Society and celebrity photographer Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) was something of a legend in his own lifetime. Also an award-winning designer in the world of fashion, theatre, and film, he was a lifelong diarist, and his journals read like a Who’s Who of the great and the good of the 20th century. His picture portraits of queens and commoners flattered his subjects, but after his death, the pen-pictures revealed in his unexpurgated diaries most certainly did not. These documents are very entertainingly adapted for the stage and performed in this one-man show by Richard Stirling (Bridgerton, The Crown, Jeeves and Wooster).

1930s Rolleiflex camera in hand, the Panama-hatted, linen-suited Stirling looks every inch the suave Beaton, his note-perfect dialogue engagingly capturing the aristocratic hauteur with which his subject viewed the world. As we romp through the highlights and lowlights of a lively and eventful career, there is much Wodehousian whimsy and theatrical high camp to raise many a smile. But in stark counterpoint, the less genial side of Beaton’s character often pokes through. His private thoughts about even royal clients could be mercilessly cruel: one laugh-out-loud moment came when Princess Margaret was referred to as looking like “a wealthy seaside landlady”. No punches are pulled here when it is also revealed that at one point in the 1930s, Beaton was suspected of holding – in common with many of his class at that time – anti-semitic views. He strenuously denied this, but for some time as a result he was blacklisted by several Hollywood studios. It is perhaps revealing that when Beaton himself became the subject of a portrait in oils by the artist Francis Bacon, he loathed the nightmarish Dorian Gray-like vision that Bacon created.

Whilst Beaton may not remain a household name these days, this mid-day show nonetheless attracted a quite sizeable and receptive audience who shared the roomy black-box auditorium with me. Stirling’s fine performance is well supported by a generous selection of Beaton’s most famous images, which are back-projected onto a large screen at the back of the sparsely-furnished set. But perhaps a little more in the way of scenery and a few smart decorative touches might visually improve this show about a man to whom style and appearances were everything? Nonetheless, the sustained applause at the end confirmed my impression of a worthwhile and entertaining piece of theatre.

So come for the photos. Stay for the pithy dialogue. Leave with a smile on your face. Get your smartest coats on and go see this.


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‘Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man’ (Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, until AUG 28)

“The flamboyant style and innuendo-laden patter had the audience shrieking with laughter from the outset. “

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

The programme note “Includes scenes of a sexual nature” is putting it mildly for this hilariously raucous and bawdy romp. Based on a book of the same name by Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman, it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe after productions in Las Vegas and Off-Broadway New York. Not for the shy or straight-laced, the tips of the title are presented as a step-by-step guide to sex in the format of a scholarly presentation that quickly escalates into something like Love Island-style reality TV or an X-rated late-night quiz show.

At the centre of the action is Dan, the “Gay man” of the show’s title, played by Adam Fane, who hosts the evening like Graham Norton on acid and is camper than a field full of tents. His flamboyant style and innuendo-laden patter had the audience shrieking with laughter from the outset. His foil is Robyn, a bookish ingenue who vainly tries to sustain the pretence of an academic seminar amidst an onslaught of dick jokes and phallic symbols. While we’re on the subject of the penis, come prepared to volunteer a nickname for the male pudendum to be used for the rest of the show. I heard the audience propose everything from the workaday “knob” to the exotically suggestive “beef whistle”, but the one we ended up with was “Ever-Ready”. The third cast member is Bradley Allen Meyer, who plays Stefan the stage manager. Something of a stud who clearly excites the interest of Robyn. Stefan is used as a life model and stripper for some of the tips demonstrated.

Things were cranked up another notch when a little more audience participation saw three brave ladies take the stage to mime various arousal techniques under Dan’s instruction. This greatly excited the other women in the audience including my wife – normally a presbyterian sort of lady – who started fondling me in a way she hasn’t for a wee while. Dan whipped things up even further to whooping hysteria when we were invited to mime something – modesty forbids me from saying what – using our rolled-up programmes. At this stage my wife giggled: “This is like a Hen night in Blackpool!” (And she told me she was going to a conference…)

This ribald laugh-out-loud show is an absolute hoot. The large auditorium was nearly full when I was there and I can only imagine things getting even busier as word gets around. So come for the Sex Tips, stay for the laughs, and leave with a few nifty ideas to buck up your love life. Get your sexiest coats on and go see this!


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‘Bird with Kylie Vincent’ (Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, until AUG 28)

“This is edgy and very funny stuff, delivered with self-deprecating wit that invites much laughter”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars (Nae Bad)

There is no shortage of stand-up comedy at the Fringe these days, which is rather taking over from theatre. This production (and I think that’s the right word for it) comes somewhere between the two. Kylie Vincent takes the stage as a feisty in-your-face young comedian, opening with some funny if fairly conventional observation about being an American in Edinburgh.

But we quickly realise there’s going to be more to this act than meets the eye. The traditional relationship trope of performer and audience is exploded by her analysis of a heckle she received at a gig in New York – to which we listen on audiotape – before this leads her off into a revealing and confessional exploration of her self-image and personal life. The usual idea of a comic making wry observations about the world we all share is abandoned as we are drawn into the sometimes dysfunctional and abusive world of her “white trash” family upbringing. This is edgy and very funny stuff, delivered with self-deprecating wit that invites much laughter – but I noticed there were several highly introspective episodes when there was scarcely a giggle for some minutes as the audience were raptly absorbed in listening to stories that were a little too painful for amusement. Jerry Sadowitz this ain’t – and I mean that as a compliment.

The eponymous “Bird” is Kylie’s name for herself. She sees herself and others as metaphorical animals, with other friends and family referred to by names such as “the deer” or “the gazelle”. Tellingly, all of the males in her life are monkeys or apes, with her father being “the gorilla”. Although a fine emotional rollercoaster of a show, I felt that overall it fell a little too far down between the two stools of dramatic monologue and stand-up comedy to be an out-and-out success in its current form. But Kylie Vincent is someone to watch: this combination of misery memoir and wryly observational humour felt like a work in progress that has much potential and I suspect we’ll be hearing more from Ms Vincent in years to come.

So come for the laughs, stay for the heartbreak, and leave thinking a little more about the ups and downs of your own family life. Get your coats on and go see this emerging new genre of tragicomedy.


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‘Les Dawson: Flying High’ (Assembly George Square, Gordon Aikman Theatre, until AUG 25)

“Tim Withnall’s script perfectly captures Dawson’s often poetic turns of phrase, with Culshaw’s note-perfect delivery setting up pirouetting metaphors to be brought crashing to earth with hob-nailed one-liners.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

The huge queue outside the venue before the show bore witness to the enduring popularity of both John Culshaw (BBC R4 Dead Ringers) and the comedian to whom this one-man show is a tribute. The 450-seat theatre was packed – I’d book early if you haven’t already got one of the hottest tickets in town. Those familiar with his work will know Culshaw is a master impressionist, but he has a head start here in bearing a more than passing resemblance to the lugubrious Les, his elastic face cheerfully twisting into that familiar expression akin to a bulldog chewing a humbug.

We first meet Les at the peak of his career, crossing the Atlantic on Concorde, looking back over his rags-to-riches life story, delivered in Dawson’s trademark deadpan style. We’re taken from his childhood on the streets of Manchester to his days as a pianist in a Parisian brothel and the TV stardom that lay beyond. Tim Withnall’s script perfectly captures Dawson’s often poetic turns of phrase, with Culshaw’s note-perfect delivery setting up pirouetting metaphors to be brought crashing to earth with hob-nailed one-liners.

Dominating the set upstage is a huge TV screen, on which we regularly see re-enacted episodes from the comedian’s life and career. All parts are superbly played by Culshaw, ranging from Dawson’s Cissie and Ada double act with Roy Barraclough, BBC newsreader John Humphreys, to Opportunity Knocks compere Hughie Green. An upright piano enables singalong audience participation as Les murders two or three songs in his laugh-out-loud tone-deaf style.

A show about a comedian who’s been dead for 30 years and whose heyday was half a century ago inevitably draws an audience with an older age profile. But the laughter of a few young people around me suggested that, while some mother-in-law jokes might be showing their age a bit, there’s still some mileage left in Dawson’s curmudgeonly wry take on life.

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‘The Actress’ (Underbelly Bristo Square – Dairy Room, until 29th AUG)

“…superbly captures the debauched revelry of Restoration London. “

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

In the London of 1660, the restoration of King Charles II heralds an arts renaissance, a keynote of which is the reopening of theatres and most controversially, women being allowed on an English stage for the very first time. The King’s Company of players invite two actresses to join them, but only one can be the first ever to play a major role: that of Desdemona in Othello. Who will it be?

Written and directed by Andrew Pearson-Wright, this production by the Long Lane Theatre Company (based on a true story) superbly captures the debauched revelry of Restoration London, and as the programme warnings of some occasional nudity and content of a sexual nature suggest, there is much roister-doistering afoot! Charlotte Price plays the hopeful outsider Anne Marshall, a provincial ingenue in search of her big break into acting. The competition comes in the shape of the glamorous Eve Pearson-Wright, playing the worldly and experienced front-runner Margaret Hughes. Naturally, we root for the virtuous Anne, sympathetically and convincingly played by Price, but Pearson-Wright as Margaret is very easy on the eye and easily wraps the two men on the stage – Matthew Hebden and Andrew Loudon as men about town and the theatre manager – around her manipulative fingers. A third actress in this five-piece cast is Hattie Chapman, who plays a number of smaller characters, including Anne’s best friend. Chapman is a highly effective foil to the main characters, her strikingly engaging facial expressions and electro-magnetic eyes enhancing the humour and emotion of every scene she was in.

As may be expected in a play about theatre, there is much wry self-referential humour about life on the stage: “Audiences? Since when have they been able to judge what’s good and what isn’t?”. But a dark counterpoint to this is shown in the portrayal of a time when men could pay to watch the actresses changing into their costumes backstage before a play, and female performers could be subject to vicious attacks by religious fundamentalists who saw them as little more than “devil’s whores”. The enduring feminine struggle to find one’s way in the world was reflected in a frisson of recognition from women around me in the audience when Margaret wearily remarks to the naïve Anne: “You’re a woman: adapt or die”.

Enacted on a small stage with a basic set in a plain black-box auditorium, the show drew well-deserved whoops of rapturous applause at the end from the near-capacity 100-plus audience. I left the building imagining how this magical little gem of theatre would make a good Netflix costume drama.


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‘The Wonder Games with Maddie and Greg’ (Underbelly George Square, until AUG 13)

“My youngsters asked if they could recreate an experiment at home and watch more of Maddie and Greg’s videos. Result.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

If you don’t have children under the age of 10 you may never have heard of Maddie and Greg. They are though to the CBeebies generation rockstars. Their popular science videos on YouTube were enormous hits during lockdown and helped inspire a generation of youngsters to stay curious.

We arrived early at the big purple cow to see a queue already snaking off towards the Meadows. Many children (and some adults) in Maddie and Greg t-shirts. There was a genuine hubbub. Maybe even a hullaballoo.

And then Maddie and Greg bounded on stage. They explained the Wonder Games: a series of games – with full audience participation – which would bring science to life.

The duo are exceptionally skilled pros. Working with kids and parents wearing comedy Sou’Westers isn’t easy. Experiments can go wrong.

They make it look easy as they guide the audience through the science. Youngsters cheering, clapping and desperately hoping to be picked. From the first minute to the last they hold their young audience in the palm of their hands. Youngsters nearby shouted out for particular games or experiments they’d tried at home and wanted to see in the flesh (I suppose a bit like those middle aged dads shouting ‘’Do more Beatles’’ stuff when McCartney was playing Glastonbury)

Over the course of four games – all involving the audience, all built around learning about science in a fun way – Maddie and Greg compete with each other. We were resolutely Team Maddie. There’s vortexes, intros to gravity, Irn Bru, and a genuinely hilarious game called Fact Bombs. Our girls – and two friends they bumped into – thought this was hilarious and were properly belly laughing. Maddie was doing her best to corpse Greg but he was just about fly enough to get through it.

It is a highly polished, inventive, enjoyable show. It makes you want to learn more about science. My youngsters asked if they could recreate an experiment at home and watch more of Maddie and Greg’s videos. Result.


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