Rehearsal blog – day 9 (16.5.2013)

Lots of important discoveries today so a rather long blog…The_reformed_court

Today we worked on the first entrance of Divine Correction. What was interesting was the extent to which Tam Dean Burn’s entry created a whole new atmosphere within the world of the play. Good Counsel, Gerda Stevenson, Chastity, Cara Kelly, and Verity, Alison Peebles, had all tried to reform Rex Humanitus and had failed. Suddenly Divine Correction changed the dynamic. We spent a considerable amount of time on Divine Correction’s provocative question – What is a King? And his equally radical answer – Nought but an officer. Discussing this line in the context of a performance brought home to me quite how potentially dangerous and subversive the question is since what Lyndsay was doing here is asking a heterogeneous audience of people in Cupar and Edinburgh to reflect on the nature of kingship

It was interesting discussing with the actors and directors the nature of Lyndsay’s politics. It was a reminder at how impoverished, in some ways, modern political discourse is since during the discussion one was constantly tempted to separate moral, economic and social issues. Of course in Lyndsay’s world such a separation would have been meaningless, indeed it would have represented the worst behaviour of, as Lyndsay saw it, the clergy. Ane Satyre is concerned with the idea of a commonweal founded on equity where everyone lives within their bounds. In these terms it embodies a very similar approach to politics as that articulated in the C Text of Piers Ploughman. At one level this is a conservative model of politics since it looks back to a mythical golden age where the classes or estates each knew and respected the boundaries of appropriate behaviour. But it could also form the basis of a radical critique of society and in particular those in power. After all Divine Correction’s agenda is a restorative one but is it articulated through radical language and there is a constant sense that those who transgress against the social bond, disregard-less of status or position will be punished.

In the afternoon, we looked at the rooting out of Sensualitie from the realm of Scotland and it was really striking to see female figures of virtuous rule on-stage alongside Divine Correction.

There was a discussion of the unusual word ‘consociable’ – the term used to describe the relationship that the King is now to have with Verity, Chastity and Good Counsel – and its emphasis on ‘society’ as a result of having allegories embodied on the stage, figuring the relationship between king and virtue as interpersonal.   The same is true of the moment when Sensualitie gets absorbed into the Church, in our staging through being pulled onto Spirituality’s knee and pawed by the Abbot.

But the really interesting part was seeing the staging of Rex’s acceptance of Divine Correction’s Counsel and the departing of Sensualitie form the court.  As it is being performed, Rex listens to Divine Correction only as a secondary effect of Sensualitie leaving him, rather than from making a positive choice to do so.  The moment really strengthens the version of Rex we are building as a weak and easily-led King.  As the actor James Mackenzie said to me, he only listens to Correction because he realises he is “alone and Divine Correction is the only person who seems to be offering him any counsel” rather than through his recognition of God’s emissary’s authority.

The final call was with the Pardoner to look at the section where he divorces the Suiter from his wife during the ‘Interlude’ (what we call the ‘Interval play’).  The strong rhythm of this section was quickly identified, and the fact that all of the dialogue is divided into six-line stanzas, largely lines of iambic tetrameter followed by a line of iambic trimeter.  There are clear moments of flying in the piece, and the verse lets it build up to the arse-kissing divorce ritual.  It took quite some time to find the right rhythm and pacing of this section of verse and Greg Thompson noted the paradox of some of the most common characters in the whole play having some of the most technical prosody.

We also had the amazing realization today that we will be opening the play on the same day as the play was performed in 1552 – June 7th!!  It must be serendipity.

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Rehearsal blog – day 8 (15.5.2013)


In the morning, we looked at lines 1200-1287 – Chastity’s entrance.  Much of this action will make use of the ‘field’, both Diligence and Chastity are very mobile in this area during this section.  Indeed Diligence’s command of the whole domain of the round is noteworthy, as the research team had predicted.  The fact that the Three Estates can be found in the acting space throughout Part One also became clearer , which says something important about the kind of political universe that Lyndsay dramatizes and how integrated it is. At some point Temporality and the Merchants will need to be secreted in our VIP area.

In the afternoon, we looked at the stocking of Chastity and it was particularly interesting to see the opposition between Chastity and Sensualitie played out in dramatic space.  Today was also a day of costume fitting – above is Sensualitie trying out her wonderful costume.

At the end of the day, we looked at the section where Chastity is welcomed by the craftsmen, only to be chased away by their wives (ll 1287-1395) – a comic turn but with the serious point that Chastity may be found among Scotland’s lower orders, if not its elite.  Verity’s argument that subjects will follow the example set by their king shows that Sensualitie has not yet had the trickle-down effect she predicts.   Once again Lyndsay’s egalitarianism is demonstrated by the fact that the ability to recognise the beauty and virtue of Scotland is given to the Scottish working class…though not of course their ‘wickit wives’.

We also had the amazing realization that we will be opening the play on the same day as the play was performed in 1552 – June 7th.  It must be serendipity.

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Rehearsal blog – day 7 (14.5.2013)


Lots more work on the Vices today. In the afternoon the company looked at the part of the play where the Spirituality enter and Verity is hurled into the stocks 1077-1178.  The implication in the text is that the Spirituality are on-stage throughout the first a thousand lines because the stage direction before their first speech reads ‘Here they [the Vices] come to the Spirituality’ (1096 sd).  However, in our version the audience will see the men of the kirk for the first time as they enter on this stage direction, and are met by the Vices on what we call the punishment stage (the quarter to 12 stage of the round).   This is certainly a scene where the in-the-round staging comes to the fore as Verity will make a journey almost the entire way around the encircling walkway from the time of her entry to her imprisonment.

The need to combine action and words in order to keep a long show moving along at pace is becoming obvious.  However a moment will be taken to create a tableau during Verity’s speech in the stocks of the Spirituality gives the Vices their reward for putting her there, which really helps to focus the juxtaposition between her words and the churches’ deeds.  Greg Thompson also set up a convention whereby every time someone says a prayer or is sincere about religion, the Spirituality “get a slight migraine”.

We then looked at the Vices’ exit 1516-1579.  The fact this starts on the punishment stage but that the Vices move away from it nicely materializes their avoidance of retribution in the first half of the play.

If you’re coming to the production look out for Deceit’s stabbing out of  Falset’s eye –it’s going to be quite a moment!

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Rehearsal blog – day one (7.5.2013)

28 actors, academics, stage crew and a director gathered in what Gregory Thompson called a ‘underground bunker’ to begin work on A Satire of the Three Estates on the hottest day of the year so far – hopefully a good omen for our outdoor production.

Greg T gave the actors an introduction about the sort of research project they will be working on – saying that the type of knowledge yielded through rehearsal and performance is a different but as important form of knowledge as that gained by scholars through literary research. Tom Betteridge added that it’s just as valid, and should be valued as much as archival and traditional scholarship.

Greg T told the actors “We have one job.  We have to make the text sing”, saying that every single word is as important as the next in the creation of David Lindsay’s story. He told the cast that they will be at a technical disadvantage as they will lack lighting and sound, but said that they will have music and what he called, the ‘human spotlight’, the rule by which an actor only looks at the person to whom they’re speaking to help focus the audience’s attention.

Greg Walker and and Tom explained the importance of performing this play in its entirety from a historical and cultural perspective, and Greg T suggested the research significance of asking the question, ‘what is this play’ and seeing it as a much more sophisticated piece of work than recent productions might suggest when compared to other sixteenth-century drama. But he also claimed that our purpose is to ‘delight and intrigue the audience, and give them a sense of what it might have been like to see this play in the sixteenth century’.

The actress Gerda Stevenson, playing Good Counsel, brought up a recent Sunday Herald article on the commonweal which she had found of interest, and Tom responded that the very concept of the commonweal is a difficult one, meaning common-wealth but also -weal, with the health connotation that this entails. Therefore it is not just geographical or ideological but also about a sense of collectivity, raising questions about authority and its distribution.

We moved on to a read-through, managing to cover Part One (split into a more manageable 2 parts) and what we call the ‘interval play’ (otherwise known as the ‘Interlude’ in morning, and part 2 in the afternoon (split into 3 parts). Despite the text unsurprisingly representing something of a struggle at points in terms of some of its obscure meaning and construction, it was exciting to see life breathed into it by the actors. Part One was especially lively and the comic potential of the Vice triad became obvious.  However, it was also evident that this is a difficult and occasionally clunky script which will need a good amount of actorly resource and skill to make it work as a piece of drama.  Greg W said that the ‘scale of the task ahead’ was shown by the reading, while Tom thought it was primarily the end that presented a the most difficulty theatrically.  Tomorrow we will start closer textual analysis on the play to start making sure every actor knows exactly what they are saying.


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Entrances: field and pavilion

Here’s the final blog post in the series of staging questions that the research team have been mulling over. This one concerns where characters may enter and exit from in our production.

Due to practicalities of performance the set has now been modified and, as it stands, the audience will still be enclosed within a ’round’ but the majority of the action will occur end-on. Here’s a sneak preview for you:


While the classical ‘in-the-round’ configuration with a central stage has been altered therefore, the form largely remains, and this raises issues of where the characters both enter and exit from. Do they come from behind the end-on stage – appearing before the audience – or are we still able to use the ‘field’ as an route to the stage – so that characters come through them? Below is the research team’s response to the director’s question: ‘Do the characters make their first entrance from the ‘field’. And Rex specifically – where does he enter from at the beginning of Part 1?’

Greg Walker – I think it matters where people come on from, as it indicates who and what level of society they are from. Those who come seemingly from out of the crowd, like John or Pauper, or the sowtar and tailor and their wives are reps of the people. Others clearly come TO the crowd and platea from outside – from outwith Scotland, whether villains like the Pardoner, or Flattery, or virtuous figures like Good Counsel, Verity, Correction, etc. Shouldn’t Rex emerge from out of his seat (as it were). He’s not from us – we don’t elect him or have a choice of who gets to be king. It’s decided for us by the powers that be.

Tom Betteridge – I think if characters come from outside Scotland they need to come through the field / audience – the only two places that people can enter are effectively from the field or from the court. As Diligence says when Pauper enters, ‘Quhair have wee gottin this gudly companyeoun? Swyith out of the field, – Pauper is a companion who has entered the world of the play from the field – but note that field is not a non-performing area – rather it is one that can be part of the ‘stage’ and at the same time it is the stage’s border or enabling frame. The characters who should not come from the field are, as Greg suggests, Rex but also the other courtly characters – I don’t think Diligence should come from the field since, I would suggest, part of his weakness is that he lacks the authority implicitly given to those characters who can come from the field but transgress its limitations – i.e. Divine Correction and John the Commonwealth.

Ellie Rycroft – I agree with the above, especially that Rex shouldn’t come through the field, but I think the fact that members ‘ride’ into parliament complicates things to an extent. I think there’s something compelling about the display of the parliament during the riding – it’s as if they are saying ‘you can see us, we’re off to do something important, but you’re not allowed to see what’, fully materialised when the Lyon King fences the space off. See images of parliamentary processions below.

parliamentary procession
parliamentary procession 2

John McGavin – I agree with the above. Some characters definitely do not come in through the audience. I do not see Diligence as coming through the audience: he can talk to them up close but he is a higher man’s functionary. Others definitely do. Some actions, however, are intended to be spectacular; they are public theatricality within theatre, and they constitute one of those elements of 16th century drama where the drama self-reflexively stages its own essential foundations – like the thematic use of disguise and impersonation or the moral staging of emblematic tableaux (such as the king and ladies lolling about in the first part described by Verity). This is an instance where the drama gives special force to the notion of watching: spectating becomes ‘witnessing’ in the sense of bearing witness. Although Ellie’s image do not depict the crowd, we as lookers at the image are part of that crowd. Wherever the thrie estaitis come from (the palyeon) on their way to the parliament, their proximity to the people en passant is vital – they are coming backward ‘throw this toun’. James was later to ‘stage’ the nobles in a banquet at the Cross precisely so that the people could act as witnesses to it and so put the nobles under the pressure of public scrutiny and public memory. I would be inclined to start Part Two with Diligence announcing the thrie estaitis and getting the spectators to rise and take their hats off. The surprising entry from the pavilion of the backward estates would then be a shocking blow to the spectators who had been prepared to honour this event.

Sarah Carpenter – I suppose I’d assumed that ‘courtly’ characters – king, three estates etc – come from the ‘pal3eoun’ when they need to ‘enter’. That’s formally stated for the three estates at the beginning of act 2, but I can’t see where else the king would exit to (or therefore enter from). There are some characters who specifically seem to need to come from the audience, people like John the Commonwealth, the tradespeople, some of the vices. And they often are said to come ‘through the water’, which might suggest from the audience side of the platea? Although in fact some of them are said at times to ‘pas to the palyeoun’, like the Taylor’s wife at 1395. It seems important to be able to signify characters who come from ‘abroad’ as different from either of these groups. But they often establish this themselves through their entrance speeches, wherever they arrive from physically.

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Jamie Stuart, the original Sandy Solace, on Tyrone Guthrie’s production

I was absolutely honoured to interview the original Sandy Solace from Tyrone Guthrie’s famous 1948 production of A Satire of The Three Estates the other day.  A true moment of oral history that speaks for itself, and does so in a “richt merry voice”. Jamie Stuart, what a character.



Reading of the 1540 Interlude at the Traverse 5/4/13

The first reading of the Interlude went exceptionally well yesterday, with the audience particularly interested in our staging of the metadrama of James V and Gavin Dunbar, the Bishop of Glasgow whom James ordered to “reform your factions and manners of living” at the end of the 1540 performance.  Questions from an excellently informed audience included whether the actors felt the tension of performing to a ‘King’ and the audience/court during the reading.  Gregory Thompson explained that this is the real paradox of historical theatre research; we can reconstruct texts, spaces, costumes and sets, but we can never recreate a sixteenth-century audience.

The process of working on the reconstructed version of the 1540 play in performance was incredibly useful. The research team felt they learned more in two days of working with actors on the text than weeks of discussion might reveal, highlighting the importance of practice-based research methods. Below are a few photos from the reading as well as a cast list – we were of course incredibly fortunate to be working with such a distinguished roll call of both established and emerging Scottish actors.

1. SIR WILLIAM EURE.   Alison Peebles
2. KING JAMES V.   James Mackenzie
4. SOLACE.  Callum Cuthbertson
5. THE KING.   Finn den Hertog
6. TEMPORALITY.   Peter Kenny
7. SPIRITUALITY.   Tom McGovern
8. BURGESS.    Michael Daviot
9. EXPERIENCE.   Gerry Mulgrew
10. POOR MAN.   Tam Dean Burn

James V among his 'court' Greg Thompson gives an introduction Spirituality gets angry The Parliament Poor Man petition  Parliament Temporality rebukes Spirituality Sir William Eure The audience arrives

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Haggis Hunting: 50 Years of New Playwrighting – day 1

Tomorrow our reconstruction of the 1540 Interlude will get it’s first airing at Edinburgh University’s Haggis Hunting: 50 Years of New Playwrighting conference taking place at the Traverse theatre:


Rehearsals started today with a stellar cast of Scottish actors including Tam Dean Burn, Gerry Mulgrew and Alison Peebles.  Our version is composed of a dramatic arrangement of  the historic documents concerning this lost play, excerpts from the 1552/4 play that relate to the description found in William Eure’s letter to Cromwell, as well as new writing which contextualises the various historic figures and events behind the performance.  Eure, for instance, explains that he is “Governor of Berwick, but I was Deputy Warden of the East March until James V replaced me with a Scot.”  I’m particularly pleased that some compelling historical detail uncovered by Greg Walker has made it into the play when Solace explains to the audience:

Interestingly there was a time, when James was a child, when these three men shared a bedroom.  The boy king, James V, and his tutors, his guardians, Lindsay and Dunbar, sleeping together peacefully, and now they’re governing Scotland.

Dunbar is the Archbishop of Glasgow berated by James V following the performance of 1540.  It’s one of those strange moments which reveals just how small the Scottish political centre was.

I will be playing the Scribe in the reading – the documenter of the political process; a role with affiliations to the documenting I’m undertaking during the project.  In fact, at this very moment, the actors are tackling the script for the second time today…

Come along to the reading if you can! Tickets are £6 or £4 and can be obtained by following the link above or calling the box office on 0131 228 1404.



Where does Diligence speak from?

Középkori színház

Building on our discussions about locus and platea staging (see blog post dated 18th March below), the next question the team considered was where Diligence speaks from.  Is he a platea character – on the threshold of performance and situated in the liminal space between spectator and actor – or is he a locus character and ensconced in the action?  Diligence is a character who performs important functions in the play such as proclaiming the parliament, keeping the parliamentary space clear of undesirables such as the Pauper, and bringing in others such as John the Commonweal.  Here’s what the team thought of his spatial relationship with audience and actors in performance, a subject on which they were largely in agreement:

Where does Diligence Speak From?

Greg Walker – Isn’t he pretty mobile – a creature of the acting space as a whole? When he speaks for the king or the estates, I guess he is in parliament, but when he speaks to the audience as the voice of the play, he can be anywhere, locus or platea. When he reads the acts he comes from parliament to the platea, as he is ‘crying’ the acts to the nation at large.

Tom Betteridge – at the opening of part 2 Diligence tells the audience, ‘Famous peopill, tak tent and ye sall se’ – here he speaks as a master of ceremonies / chorus figure – his response to the Pauper, however, suggests he also has a role of policing the performance space. I think that he is a figure for Lyndsay in the play but it is also important that he lacks the power / authority of Divine Correction or the insight of John the Commonwealth ( or indeed in a different way Pauper ) – Diligence at one level is an Everyman figure since his engagement with what is happening on stage does not got ahead of the action – i.e. he seems a part of the process of reform / critique not something sitting above or in judgement to the world of the play.

Ellie Rycroft – Diligence is a perfect example of a platea type character in his movement between the world of the play, and the play in the world, so it depends where we site the platea in a sense.  At the same time, the Lyon King sat at the feet of the King in parliament so, if we do envision him as a Lindsay figure (and the herald costume Hilary is proposing heads in this direction – although the image we have is of a much lower status than Lindsay/Lyon King), we need to show where his allegiances are even if he does not sit in judgement on what occurs during the play.  I think it is interesting that one of the Lyon King’s functions, after the members has ‘ridden’ or processed into parliament, was to ‘fence’ the parliament off, so that he sets the boundary of the space, policing it, as Tom said.

John McGavin – All the above seem right to me: mobility; multiple, shifting functions, and a ‘functionary’ in both social and theatrical terms. In my view, Diligence is the means by which you can define the separateness of court-parliament and people wherever they are located (question 1); it’s his movement across the total playing space which marks the divisions between the different loci.

Sarah Carpenter – yes.  Though in fact in the text Diligence doesn’t do the fencing himself but calls on the ‘Dampster’ to do it (2396).  The script doesn’t give the Dampster any words to do it, though.  It just says ‘Thay ar set doun’.  I feel, like Ellie, that Diligence is a character who more than any other can move between loci and platea, and can establish which is which simply by his demeanour.  After all, these spaces are themselves fluid?

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Can parliament happen on the platea?

I thought it might be interesting to share some of the discussions the team have been having about the set and use of space in the forthcoming performances, as these  are informing how we design the outdoor productions.

This first question concerns what sort of dramatic action can or cannot happen on the platea.  The platea is an area of the stage in the medieval period, whose theatre often used locus and platea staing.  The locus was an area which very much concerned the world of the play, a tree on the stage, for instance, by which characters would stand to show they were in the forest, or the sign of an inn, to demonstrate that characters were in a pub – these are all examples of loci.  The platea, by contrast, is a threshold space which is neither fully immersed in the world of the play, nor outside of it and in the audience – it is somewhere from which characters may talk to the audience, but may also withdraw back into the play itself.

How and where we site the platea is especially important for A Satire of the Three Estates because of the sorts of questions we want to explore about political space and its accessibility/inaccessbility to the public or commonwealth.  There are definitely transgressions of space in the play. The Pauper, for instance, is told be Diligence on his entry (1938-1941):

Where have we gotten this goodly companion?                                 

Swyth out of the field, false raggit loon!                                     

God wait if here be ane weel kept place,                            

 When sic ane vile beggar carl may get entries.

Here the Pauper is being told that he cannot even be among the audience in the field in which they stand  But not only does he transgress Diligence’s command by getting up on the stage, in an intensely radical moment he even jumps up onto the King’s throne – an area that we may imagine is one of the play’s loci.

Moments such as this, and when John the Commonwealth jumps the ‘stank’ to enter the parliament, foreground the importance of who is and who isn’t allowed to inhabit the various parts of the stage in this play.  A key question for the team has been whether the parliament staged in Part Two of the play should be conceived of as a loci or as part of the permeable space of the platea.  Please see below for the research team’s debate about this and feel free to contribute your thoughts:

Can parliament happen on the platea?

Greg Walker – It could, perhaps. But the point of the play is surely that Parliament doesn’t really represent the people (and audience) until John and Pauper get in and John joins the estates with his gay garmoun at the end. If it was all happening in the platypus, then the visualisation of the idea that the audience is part of the excluded ‘people’, and parliament is happening somewhere else doing its business might get lost. We surely want to avoid the modern sense of parliament as a representative body of the people. The 16th century parliament is a gathering called by the prince to advise him. He chooses who comes, when and if it gathers, and when it is dismissed.

Tom Betteridge – when the three estates enter they come from the pavilion [Heir sall the Thrie Estaitis cum fra the palyeoun, gangand backwart, led be thair Vyces ] this suggests a sense in which entering Parliament is equivalent to entering the space of the play – I am assuming that ‘the palyeoun’ in this stage direction is the place from which the actors enter. In these terms I think Parliament could take place in the platea – it should not be in the field since that is where the people are but equally it should not be in the court since it has to be a space whose boundaries are up for debate or at least can be suspended / staged.

Greg Walker’s response – I suppose it is possible for the Parliament to take place in the platea, but it would have to be clear that this isn’t the same space where the tailor and sowter and their wives, and all the other representatives of the people do their thing. We’d have to have a separate acting space for them distinct from the parliament space.
Parliament is summoned by the king (or regent) to them, wherever they happen or want to be, so it would be more likely to happen in or around a palace or seat of government. We’d be making quite a statement about the accessibility and willingness to listen of the king at the end of part one if he came into the platea and summoned the estates to him there. Which might clash a bit with the notion that then Pauper and John have trouble getting in. But it could be done, I suppose…

Ellie Rycroft – As Greg has said, the Scottish parliament happens wherever the King is, whether this is a palace or the Tolbooth in Edinburgh.  The Tolbooth was the most common venue so parliaments were not usually at the court. The platea in theatre history is the permeable space in which characters can address the audience but still be part of the play, so it is not somewhere where I think we would find the Estates or Rex as they don’t do that sort of thing, but I agree with Tom that the permeable space has shifted to some degree into the ‘field’.  Might it be useful to think about the stage we propose to have in front of the semi-circular area of loci not as the platea at all but an extension of the locus, and imagine that there is a continuum from the definite audience interaction of the field, through the spaces we have set up towards the King? Or does this fudge the matter?

John McGavin – I think that the separation of the parliament from the people is important for the reasons Greg and Ellie suggest, but the connection with the people can be achieved on the awful parodic ‘riding’ to Parliament, and then the parliament is held in a location theatrically between the ‘court’ and the space into which people might go. John the Commonwealth has to cross that area so I agree with Greg’s final comment on divisions of theatrical space. I do also agree with Ellie and Tom that the meaning of space changes in relation to the nature of the action: it is John the Commonwealth’s having to cross a space that defines the separation of the parliament from the people.

Sarah Carpenter – is the ‘fencing’ of the parliament crucial here?  It’s a formal part of establishing the parliament (according to late records generally done by the Lyon King), and it seems to establish the parliament as a parliament wherever it is sitting.  (Learney’s article on parliamentary ceremonial quotes that the person fencing:  ‘biddis and defendis that ony man dystrobill this court wranguisly’ (134) see SHR 21, 61.  And SHS Sheriff Bk of Fife, 406)  That suggests that the parliament could sit anywhere, but that once it’s sat that place is formally established as a locus by the fencing?

The picture I find useful is this one – even though it’s not Scottish, and is a council rather than a parliament.  It does offer that sense of being visible to, but closed off from the ‘people’, which seems quite important:

fenced council

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