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Playing a comic role in the pantomime Mother Goose at the Palace Theatre for the Christmas–New Year season (22 December to 16 February) English comedian, CHARLES HESLOP mused amusingly on the prehistoric origins of the genre and its modern-day Melbourne equivalent in the fourth instalment of his articles originally written for the London theatrical journal The Stage.


MELBOURNE. January, 1924.

The meaningless howlings of the cave-women, ranged round three sides of the forest clearing in a swaying semicircle, ceased abruptly as though one voice, suddenly and piercingly raised over all, but put them to rout:

“Aï, aï,” it said, as far as its words could be followed, “The goos-Mother!”

Thus heralded, the indescribable Ag, the widow-woman, propelled herself and her fur rags from Heaven knows what decent obscurity into their midst; a voluble dame whose chattering reduced the semi-circle to an appreciative silence. Rambling chatter it seemed, now of her lamented Ug (but lately the tit bit of some mastodonic meal), now of her conquests past, present, and to come; until, her garrulity swept aside by the march of progress, others of Nature's comedians took the ring, and the frequent “nap”; and Straightman, the son of Feeda, told Rednose the Baseborn how he was walking down the forest aisles when what should he see but—oojerthink? And Rednose’s reply sent such guffaws ricochetting through the green mansions that the imitative folk of the tree-tops took counsel the one with the other as to this thing of laughter, and thereupon, seeing that it was good, lifted it bodily to their hairy bosoms and called it thenceforth for their own. But all this by the way.

For Straightman and Rednose were now supplanted in their turn. The rude crowd, surfeited with laughter and looking for relief in any unlikely and unusual direction, easy through the branches Iglo, the son of Nugt, trapping moonbeams for little golden-headed Glitta to play with. Instantly guffaws gave place to sighs. Such a sentimentalising arose that the monkeys in their attics peered low with inquisitiveness and swung still lower, now clutching their brothers’ tails, now missing and falling with squeals of affrighted anger to the ground-floor; so that the watchers turned at last from Iglo and Glitta to this new interest, and by their laughter allowed that the simian acrobats had obtruded their speciality at the right moment. A noisy interlude, this, with the spectators joining in, drumming and stamping an insistent rhythm with their stoneheads on the rocks—louder, growing ever louder. Till the monkeys, suddenly scared, stopped and scuttled away to their forest fastnesses. Yet even louder, and the semi-circle itself broke up, marched down to face this thing bravely in twos, only to split before it to right and left . . . and away into oblivion, with Rednose and Straightman stumbling along behind. Louder, louder yet; and last of all came Iglo, the son of Nugt, with little golden-haired Glitta by his side, forgetful of all else, marching—marching—and the stamping and the drumming rose to a roar and a scream, as if to recall the lovers to the world they had forgotten. All in vain, of course. Hammer and shriek and scream as we may, the love interest still goes on …

“And that which we have just seen,” remarked Gloo-Gloo, the firstborn of Stickphast, to his affinity, linking his granite hammer beneath an aching arm and letting Affinity struggle into her plesiosaurus pelt unaided, “that is the origin of pantomime, you merit my words! When the ichthyosaurus ceases from troubling and the mammoth is at rest, that’s what our children and our children’s children are going to see and enjoy for all time. Selah!”

That’s what he meant: only, being prehistoric, of course he couldn’t express it so beautifully. He just made faces and strange hiccoughing noises. But Seecotina, trained by the movies, understood his every gurgle. “You do say such things, Gloo-Gloo,” she giggled. “What's the matter with mothers and fathers enjoying it, too, I’d like to know, huh?”

And, you know for yourselves, that is just how it has turned out. We’ve been conservative, we’ve kept out all improvements as far as possible, have we not? In this we are wise; the successful pantomimes are the prehistoric ones.

Children’s shows, first to last (and last to go.) I remember when I played Will Atkins at Hanley (I hate to boast, but I must make you realise who is talking) in the early days of the century (yes, this century) the applause-winning effects of “Robinson Crusoe” with the Potteries audience were precisely the applause-winning effects of “Mother Goose” in Melbourne, 1923–24—both pantomimes record successes. And these were identical with the a.-w.e., judging by my grandmother’s description, of a glorious pantomime-play she had been taken as a child to see in Drachtacachty (a few miles from Dingwall and the Vists, I believe) that snowy Christmastide of 1749. And l have no doubt she heard the same thing from her grandmother before her. So there we are. Let them wave the Red Flag of progress till they’re blue in the face, if I were putting on a pantomime I’d include a children’s ballet, and I’d bring the smallest child on to sing the principal girl’s and principal boy’s last chorus, and I’d have at least one “animal” in the show and plenty of slap-stick custard-pie comedy, and keep the old story well in evidence, and I’d edit the comedians’ gags, and I’d also have a couple of specialities to appeal to a different side of the children, and I’d make that fortune that we hear of. Anyway, if I didn’t I’d be completely nonplussed and absolutely in the jolly old quandary, wondering what the devil I’d left out.

Here in Melbourne, with the temperature round about 104 [°F], we play twice a day to myriads of screaming, shrieking, yelling, howling, crying children, festooned from gallery, circles, and boxes—young Australia at its noisiest—together with a sprinkling of listless parents, exhausted by long waiting in the sun for the doors to open. With such an audience broad effects are obviously asked for from the producer; and it is the pantomime that gives these most generously that wins out. And not only the pantomime, I think. To my mind Australia wants its dramatic fare generally to be on broad lines, as befits the wide sweeping continent it is. There is about its people a fine insouciance (so remarked in the late war) which perhaps blunts their sensibility to the subtler shades. You can trace this spirit in such everyday things as the contrast of blue serge tunic and khaki breeches of their mounted police, the corrugated iron roofings to “Theatres (Otherwise) Beautiful” and “Houses (Otherwise) Exquisite”; their black velour trilbied boyhood; their larrikins and hoodlums, whose barracking bursts so rudely upon the contemplative peace of their cricket matches; their unlubricated axles, as grindingly cacophonous as their aboriginal place-names. At present, in Melbourne at least, I am sure the tendency is for the spectacular and the sensational in its entertainment, and the best obtainable on these lines. But make no mistake, please, gentle readers (I am speaking to both of you). Australia is the most theatre-loving people in the world, and Australia wants the best we can give her, even if she appears at times content with something less than that.

But I wish they’d do something about this publicity business; I mean to say, they do rather go to extremes. Over–boosting  an artist, now. Not one artist in a thousand can hope to live up to the laid on-with-a-trowel stuff that greets them on their arrival. We may, in our own biased minds, be convinced of its truth; but, with the possible exception of our mothers, we are the only people who are; the majority (and what a majority!) hate the sight of us for it. To this, I am sure, may be ascribed much of the “non-clicking” of certain English favourites over here. They are too heavily handicapped—they carry too much weight; and if they don’t carry it they throw it about, which is worse. Things are altering now. Not the superlatives, they remain, unfortunately, but the credulity of those who read, or rather do not read, them. “Most astounding,” “epoch–making,” “world-beating,” “most wonderful” have had their day; it is merely meaningless padding in the public eye, and the newspaper advertisement manager is possibly the only member of that body pleased by it. As for myself, speaking quite personally, I have a definite grouch. By no means unused to triumphs at home as I am (even if I have to call you to Widnes to prove it), here I am, but “the celebrated,” “London’s famous,” “the flashing,” “the sparkling” (pooh, pooh! I might be a cheap Hock), “London’s idol,” “England’s foremost—” (Come, come, that’s better; but why this niggardly reticence? I can only suppose that they are holding themselves back for the real thing when it arrives. Seymour Hicks will be here in a week or so now, and daily we are expecting that rush of superlatives to the headlines.)

But give ear to the publicity gentleman, letting himself go on the subject of the theatre’s ventilation: “An unceasing supply of sweet air of dew-point coolness is wafted right through each theatre in vast volumes during hot afternoons and evenings, and every inhalation is as a breath of fragrance from some snow-clad mountain peak, Summer theatre-going is more than recreation: it is rejuvenation. Put it to the test!” Well, I mean to say! What do you know about that?

Australia is a young, vigorous, and progressive country. Her theatres are modern and well equipped, in some cases more so than many of ours. She wants the best in entertainment, and can, and will, pay for the best. Nothing too far advanced as yet; in fact, leaning at present a little heavily in the musical play direction. In the matter of native artists she has a long way off being self-supporting.

And there you are.


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THE STAGE, 27 March 1924, p.15

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Charles Heslop interviewed

Comedian Who Creates

heslop caricatureSam Wells’ caricature for The HeraldCHARLES Heslop, the agile comedian who helps to make “Tons of Money,” may also appear in pantomime. Australians are certain to see him in original roles.

In England, this actor really creates his parts. He not only acts, but writes them. Until he appeared in “Tons of Money” for a week in London before leaving for Australia, Mr Heslop had not played a part that he had not created for a number of years. He writes sketches and appears in them in vaudeville and revue in London, and sometimes goes on tour with his own company. Mamie Watson was once with him, and Mr. Heslop is very gratified to hear of her popularity in Australia.

This actor has had a unique experience, but he will only put forward one claim to distinction. “I am about the only English actor who went on the stage straight from school,” he says. “At 18 I joined a musical comedy company which included George Graves. My humble duty was to come on as one of two powdered footmen in knee breeches. Very thin and tall, my resemblance to a billiard cue must have forcibly struck at least one member of our audience. On bowing low to announce ‘His Majesty, the King,’ my white wig fell into the footlights, and there came a delighted shout from the gallery, ‘Marker, the tip’s come off!’ “

After five years in the profession, Mr. Heslop says he was earning less than when he started from scratch, so he reluctantly agreed with his people that the theatre held no future for him. The young man was then articled to a solicitor, the family's friend, but soon realised that the prospects of succeeding in the law were more ominous.

This was the time of the limerick competition craze. Mr. Heslop won a prize of £57. With this he decided to try the stage again, this time as proprietor! Mr Heslop wrote and produced a vaudeville sketch, and played it at intervals for three years. Then he expanded it into a full evening’s entertainment, and except for incursions into drama, musical comedy, pantomime, and revue, has been his own manager ever since. His show was introduced into the West End just before the war, and he made a big hit with it at the Ambassador Theatre. After the war he revived the show, but was tempted into pantomime and revue, with most of his company supporting.

“I am anxious to play my own stuff before Australian audiences,” he says, “and hope some day to have the opportunity, though it would probably mean bringing some of my artists out from England. I formed a limited liability company just before leaving to carry on my work in England.”

Many amusing stories are told by Mr. Heslop. In his very young days he played a scene in a drama where he had to shoot himself. “I was very nervous,” he says, “and the stage manager provided me with a knife for stabbing purposes in case the pistol with which I was to shoot myself did not go off. ‘And if you can't find the knife,’ he added grimly, ‘knock yourself on the head with the butt end of the revolver.’ Of course, the pistol did not go off. I was very agitated, and groped for the knife. Then I stabbed myself with the pistol, knocked myself on the head with the knife, and expired. The audience were delighted with my thoroughness; but they shouted with joy when my faithful servant came in, discovered my body, and, not having heard any shot and over-estimating my resourcefulness, risked everything and exclaimed, ‘Poisoned!’

“People say I speak very rapidly on the stage. I got into that way through playing 25-mlnute sketches in 15 minutes on the music halls. If you weren’t finished, the curtain came down, so you had to be. A friend of mine suddenly took a fancy for this sort of work, and asked me to support him at his try-out. Our turn preceded some performing elephants, and when my friend dashed upon the stage after his first ‘lightning change’ he thought I'd grown a trunk!”

Sir John Martin Harvey and Mr. Heslop’s mother are cousins. “I called upon him once when he was playing ‘Hamlet’ at the Adelphi,” the comedian remarked, “and I was doing something very derogatory in pantomime. ‘Ah,’ he said to me, ‘how I wish I had had experience of the lighter stage. I could wish that I had played the dame in pantomime!’ This would bring a smile from anyone who knows the ineffable dignity of Sir John. I remember murmuring that the part would suit him, but cannot say whether he thought it was the right answer or not.”

Mr. Heslop laughed when he thought what the critics would say about Sir John as a dame. The comedian likes Melbourne audiences much better than its critics. “I should hate to have to play to a house full of these,” he says, “as much as they would hate to have to be there while I played.”

The Herald (Melbourne), Saturday, 3 November 1923, p.17,

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Mr Heslop as Fitzrabbit

heslop mother gooseThough Charles Heslop, chief comedian in “Tons of Money,” is neither the Dame nor the Baron, he will provide plenty of fun in the “Mother Goose” pantomime. Mr. Heslop is playing a special part written to suit his particular type of comedy. This is Fitzrabbit, who makes his first appearance direct from winning the Davis Cup, the Gold Vase, Doggett’s Coat and Badge, the Marbles Handicap and other sporting trophies. Thus he is enabled to introduce his tennis and cricket scenes and golf sketch. Practically all the scenes which he does in the pantomime are his own property and of his own concoction. The golf sketch he played for two years and a half continuously in England and Scotland, but one does not need to know golf to enjoy it. 

This sketch has been the cause of episodes which were not allowed for in the original script. “On one occasion some revellers in the stage box were making themselves particularly objectionable,” Mr. Heslop recalled, “and I was casting about In my mind wildly for some means of retaliation when it struck me that I had to drive my ball—a soft one—in their direction. The ball struck one merrymaker full in the open mouth and silenced him effectually! The audience was delighted, and it is the only time I personally have ever enjoyed slicing my tee-shot.

“A nearly tragic episode occurred when the head of my driver flew off, whizzed past the manager of the theatre, who was leaning against the back of the dress-circle, and ‘plonked’ against the exit door. It was a terrible second or two while I realised that the club-head was careering away somewhere into the crowded house. Now I use a club that is guaranteed unbreakable.”

Mr. Heslop is looking forward to an Australian pantomime after a “very varied” experience with this class of work in England.

“I once put on a small pantomime myself,” remarked Mr. Heslop. “It was ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ but I had only some ‘Dick Whittington’ costumes. That did not matter. I thought out a big publicity scheme. By means of ‘clues’ artfully concealed in the pantomime dialogue children could discover the whereabouts of treasure believed to be hidden on Robinson’s Island. It seemed a great idea. I reckoned the most intelligent child would have to visit the pantomime 20 times at least, before getting on to the clues. I fear I overrated that child's intelligence!”

The Herald (Melbourne), Saturday, 1 December 1923, p.17,

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heslop whiting caricatures 01aRay Whiting caricatures for Smith’s Weekly (Sydney), 26 January 1924, p12


A Comedian with Refreshing Ideas

Charles Heslop Chats at Rehearsal

CHARLES Heslop believes in reserve, not exactly the British reserve of manner that one hears so much about, but a reserve towards indiscriminate pleasure and life for an actor. This fact is learned when, in a somewhat grotesque “make-up” as Fitzrabbit, “the adventurer” in “Mother Goose,” he is sitting in the stalls during an interval of rehearsing watching a ballet scene being tried. 

He is what the old wives used to call “serious minded,” in spite of being a comedian, and a humorous writer by deliberate choice, which, in other words, means that he holds opinion’s of his, own, and is not afraid to express them.

The reserve he advocates is with regard to the life of a stage favorite, and the opinion is called forth by some remark that has gone before. 

Mr. Heslop is not reserved in himself, and enjoys meeting his fellowmen, has made many good friends in Australia, and thoroughly enjoys their company. But he holds the opinion strongly that it is a mistake for an actor or actress to accept what may be described as promiscuous hospitality where they would, in a measure, be on show.

There is method in his madness, however, for he contends that the pubic see an actor—or actress—over the footlights and form a mental picture of their personality, then when they meet them out, in ordinary society, perhaps, having a cup of afternoon tea, they are disappointed because he or she does not come up to this mental idea, being just ordinary man or woman.

He has, however, a more serious and legitimate reason. If you accept hospitality freely and indiscriminately, you give out too much of the nerve force that you need for your work. You must have a certain amount of restful reserve, that is quietness and retirement, if you are to give your best in your work. A quiet afternoon at home with a book would do you infinitely more good.

Besides, people are so often disappointed with you when they meet you, for one cannot always simulate or be humorous, he declares—with, however, small justification as to his own powers, as Mr. Heslop is a creator of mirth, for, besides acting comedy, he writes it.

He not only pleads guilty to writing his own sketches, which might amount to genuine authorship or merely the gradual building up, bit by bit, of humorous ideas and piecing them together, but he has a much greater claim to authorship. He for some years contributed two columns weekly to one of the best-known comic papers that we have had—the inimitable “Ally Sloper.” This, compared with the comics of to-day, was quite a literary, high-class, witty publication, and to have been able to keep up two columns a week to its standard argues an overflowing fund of humor of a high grade. When “Ally Sloper” changed its style and tone, Mr. Heslop was asked to change his style in his column, but the new way did not appeal to him, so he gave up these literary labors, and never tried another paper. By this time he had made his niche in the theatrical world, and had his own show, for which he wrote his own sketches.

“The question arose whether any ideas one had were not worth more to use there,” nodding towards the stage, “than they would be to send to a paper, so I have grown into the habit of keeping them to myself, and grafting them into my work.”

Mr. Heslop gives the cynical reason why most men go on the stage—“because they have failed at two or three other things.”

But that this has not always held good in his experience is proved by his own case, for, when asked how he happened to drift on, he confesses to having been stage-struck at about eighteen—too early to have tried other careers; much less failed in them.

Having resolved to become an actor, he began by walking on. His fancy was always comedy, “to dash about and be funny,” he explains.

It is suggested that school performances may be responsible for turning a boy's thoughts towards the stage.

“Perhaps,” he agrees, “though I don’t know. I used to take part in them, but we used to do Shakespeare and serious things in ordinary dress, I once played Lydia Languish in Elton clothes, with a fan and a wig to give it atmosphere, and I think that kind of thing would rather kill any leaning towards the stage by its absurdity rather than foster it. It was so ludicrous, and one felt so foolish.”

From the walking-on stage Mr. Heslop progressed to parts in musical comedy, and, after a time, came in contact with a man named [Ernest] Crampton, who was gifted in a musical way.

“We became friends, and used to write things together—I doing the words, he the music. Then, as time went on, and I found myself still playing parts that offered but small scope, and with very little prospect of doing better, I began to think there was a good opportunity for a little show on rather different lines, I started to plan it out and write it, while Crampton composed the music, and that is how our little show started. We built it up, and improved it from time to time. It was an interesting experiment, and went well.

“Yes, I like pantomime, because I can use my own matter, and build the part up. Pretty well all that I do in ‘Mother Goose’ is my own stuff that I have previously given in England.

“I have done every class of work except the circus, I think. Not tragedy, that does not come my way; but every kind of comedy.”

Mr. Heslop has more the appearance of the matinee idol off the stage than any suggestion of the comedian. With his fine dark eyes, dark hair, and tall, slender form, allied to a certain grave, semi-confidential way, he, when conversing, seems to suggest far more the type of the romantic hero than the funny man. But a twinkle of the eye and a flash of quiet humor here and there, uttered in the most serious manner, soon dispels the illusion, and puts the new acquaintance on guard.

In private life, Mr. Heslop is something of a student of men, it would seem, and one who enjoys life from the looker-on's point of view. He is a home man, who is the proud father of a small son who promises to follow in his footsteps, though, like most fathers on the stage, he tries to keep him away from the theatre, as he has other ambitions for him.

“But he will come, and what can one do?” his father says, with all a fond father's pride in a son's persistence along his own lines.

Mrs. Heslop, who has just come from the stage for a short spell—she also is in the pantomime cast—smiles complacently. Obviously she is satisfied with her big boy and small boy also, while her husband greets her as “My girl.” They are evidently a happy little family group, who keep together following fortune around the world, and making home just wherever they happen to be.

Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 27 December 1923, p.35,

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Stated by Charles Heslop.

Charles Heslop, who makes Fitzrabbit a versatile individual in “Mother Goose” pantomime, describes himself as probably one of the most unsociable actors. Certainly he is not often to be met at those functions where stars of the dramatic Armament foregather and sparkle, more or less brightly, for the benefit of society. Yet he is a man of many friends. However, here is his theory set out by himself: —

“I possess a theory, so strongly held as to amount to an absolute conviction, that in nine cases out of ten it is a grievous mistake for a public man of whatever capacity to hobnob with the public which makes him. The tenth case is where the man's personality—that vague magnetism which we call personality, anyway—is stronger in private than in public life. This case is so rare in successful public men as to be almost negligible. What do we find? Your ‘comic fellow, clown of private life’ type placed behind the footlights is too often an uninspired mediocrity—his ‘genius’ evaporates amazingly, suddenly, completely. Most of the richest, humorists of the stage are apparently dull, serious-minded fellows in more domestic circles. The exceptions are your George Robeys, your Leslie Hensons, whose public performances are accentuations of their personal idiosyncracies. Most artists, however, have dual personalities—one for private, one for public use—and there should be a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Artists to ensure that no one personality is overworked at the expense of the other. To ensure longevity for either personality, it stands to reason that that personality must be conserved—each personality must be drawn upon to as nearly as possible an equal extent. Thus two performances a day are a severe strain in themselves; add to these a lay tea party and a dance (where, in my experience, the artist is always expected to remain his stage self) and you are shortening your professional career, you are losing your mystery and you are exhausting (and probably disappointing) your public at one and the same time.

“As a stage-struck lad back in the good old days when artists were a race apart, when the world of the theatre was a terra happily incognita to all but the favored and understanding few, when the glamor of romance and mystery surrounded all the footlight favorites, I remember seeing the hero of my aesthetic dreams with a glass of beer in his hand (and a pink edged collar round-his neck) telling inhumorous stories to a crowd of sycophants in the trocadero long bar … I fled. With my castles in air crashing dismally round my ears, I fled, vainly trying to blot the horrid sight from my memory and failing miserably as I realised, perhaps for the first time, that idols, in this perplexing state called life, invariably have feet of clay, and those feet of clay had broken, buttoned boots ...

“Well, times have changed. We know that. Nowadays we have illustrated interviews (showing Miss Violet Powder in her Rolls-Ford, in her bath, in her boudoir, in her peignoir, in her tantrums—not that, yet). Publicity in superlatives, night-clubs, movie-balls—everything conspires to make the actor—like our parks and museums—public property. At present the public is requested not to touch, but that will inevitably come. In the meantime, the public may comment, may talk ‘shop,’ and may become intimately familiar and familiarly impertinent. (I was asked recently by a quite new acquaintance at a private function whether I was getting as large a salary as Mr. —. I suppose, had I replied, we should have followed up by arguing as to which deserved the more, leading to the deduction that neither of us deserved as much!) Why do we do this?

Is business any better than it was? Are movie actors—necessarily remote—any less popular than actors of the speaking stage? I think, on the contrary, they have a very much greater appeal. In fact, I am sure of it. In any case, here is one who, from his love of his profession and from a true regard for his audiences (both English and Australian) prefers to remain as far as possible merged in the former and remote from the latter."

Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday 3 January 1924, p.5,

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heslop mother goose 05a

Mother Goose reviewed in the Melbourne Press



Mother Goose Succeeds


Though even our creditors are mute, and our tailors mum, the jolly old Xmas season of cheery goodwill cannot be complete with only puddings and presents and carols.

There must he a pantomime—a pantomime with fairies, goblins, song and jest, and many skirtless calves in dextrous dance and elegant parade. It must be a pageant of beauty and fantasy centred around the blithesome romance of some sweet, shy maid and a bob-haired boy, who merrily marry in the nick of time before the orchestra. cruelly ends the pretty story with God Save the King.

And all such things, and heaps more, are packed most charmingly into Hugh J. Ward’s Mother Goose, which laid her gilded egg of pantomimic splendor for the first time on Saturday night at the New Palace Theatre.

The show seems certain of success for many nights to come.

Dorothy Brunton, Amy Rochelle, Charles Heslop and Joe Brennan—a rollicking, gay quartette—romped gleefully through scene after scene of changing charm and beauty.

And waddling close behind them came the immense Anastasia—the goose that laid the eggs of gold, and occasionally trod on the ladies’ trains. There surely was never a finer bird than the same Anastasia, even though the program candidly admitted that her “works” are human—William Hassan, in fact.


Miss Brunton was prettily there with all her old-time piquancy and grace, as Silverbell—the naughty, adorable maid who rewards Jack with her hand when he recovers the abducted Anastasia from the very horrid Demon Vulture. By right of conquest, and by popular vote, Miss Brunton belongs properly to the musical stage, and she had no trouble in emphasising the fact.

As Jack, Amy Rochelle shines vivaciously, and uses a rich voice of astonishing power in various pretty numbers scattered throughout the piece.

And Joe Brennan seems right in his natural element as Mother Goose, in whose roomy shirts he dames drollishly with the practised art of a comedian who gets his laughs often and easily.

He shares most of the fun of the show with Charles Heslop, the exhibition of whose prowess as a champion athlete and effacer of lions gave him even better chances for farcical by-play than Tons of Money. His adventure with a golf stick was one of his best things in the show.

Ruth Bucknall made a fairy queen in conformity with accepted story-book ideals, and Mione Stewart, who did but little, did that little well. Ida Newton was, as the program truthfully said, “a likeable boy,” and Maidie Field went grimly about the business of keeping a gimlet, eye on Fitzrabbit (Charles Heslop).


David Hoffman made an interesting ornithological freak in the role of the wicked, plotting Demon Vulture, while Douglas Calderwood lounged effectively about in various disguises as a foil for the wit of the funny men, as did also Compton Coutts beneath and behind the waving whiskers of Starts, the servant. 

All these people, and a whole host of others, were neatly marshalled into the general scheme of things by Frank Neil, to whose production of the panto, much of its success must be credited.

Signor Mirano—he likes an accent, on the “sig”—does thrilling things in apparent emulation of a stone in a catapult, while the orchestra beneath him wonders what would happen to them if — —.

Then there is some clever juggling by the Littlejohn Duo, and the quaint and imperturbable Fredos play violins in a manner unorthodox and clever. And won’t the kiddies love to watch, and afterwards strive to emulate, the feats of the tiny-tot tumblers, the Royal Wonders!

But if it comes to that, the kiddies will love every moment of it all, and Ma and Pa, be they ever so staid, will warm too to the charm, the fun, and the irresistible brightness of Mother Goose, as readily as did the first-nighters on Saturday.

The Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), Monday, 24 December 1923, p.5,

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Spectacular scenes, novelties and an array of pretty girls remain in the memory of those who saw Mr. Hugh J. Ward’s Christmas pantomime Mother Goose, which was presented on Saturday night. From the tiniest fairy to the lanky Heath Robertson effects of Mr. Charles Heslop, the pantomime is essentially a children's pantomime. The humor is clean, if rather devoid of wit, the dialogue having a tendency to fall back on very ordinary vaudeville patter, but the children cannot fail to see the jokes, and they still delight at the gorgeous scenes, and hold their breath at one or two thrills. The fact that the story rather peters out after the first act will hardly be noticed in the novelties, and even old turns, such as tumbling and fiddling clowns, who, like old toys, are just as beloved by the children as any of the novelties.

The curtain rises on a nursery where some of the children are expressing their doubts as to the existence of fairies. Fairy Paradise (Miss Ruth Bucknell) then arrives, and, in order to prove that there are real fairies, unfolds the adventures of Mother Goose in fairyland. She next alights in a woodland retreat of the Demon Vulture (Mr. David Loffman), as he is persuading Squire Hardflint (Mr. Oliver Peacock), to steal she goose that lays the golden egg from Mother Goose, and war is then declared between these influences for good and evil. A delightful village scene reveals the home or Mother Goose, and marketers gathered in dainty rustic costumes, and the first real interest is awakened by the arrival of Mother Goose (Mr. Joe Brennan) and Anastacia the goose (Mr. William Hassan); the dame living up to all the traditions of her character. while Anastacia, otherwise “Sticky Beak,” standing fully 6 feet high, is the image of any goose waddling in a farm yard, and is intensely human to boot. The arrival of Fitzrabbit, the world’s champion athlete (Mr. Charles Heslop) in a freak make up. sent the house into roars of laughter, and his antics throughout never failed to keep the audience in a merry humor. Miss Dorothy Brunton, as Silver Bell, the daughter of Squire Hardflint, might have stepped out of one of Hans Andersen's fairy tales, with her pink and white coloring, fair hair and robust little figure. Jack, Mother Goose's son (Miss Amy Rochelle) had all the dash and adventure of a principal boy, and made a resplendent lover of Silver Bell. The first trick in the war between good and evil is won by the Demon Vulture, with the stealing of the goose by Fitz and his valet, Starts, who has every appearance of having escaped from a lunatic asylum. The unfolding of the story and the eventual triumph of Jack is concluded in the first act, the last act being chiefly a series of vaudeville turns, in which the principals appear in various roles, with the wedding of Silver Bell and Jack as the grand finale.

The music was attractive at times, particularly in a melodious strain “Bebe”, sung with sweetness by Miss Dorothy Brunton, who also scored with Miss Amy Rochelle in “Love Came When I First Met You”, a delightful combination with a chorus of little girls, “Sitting in a Corner”, Ivy Towe, a talented little Japanese, adding an effective note with a plaintive interpretation of her solo. Miss Amy Rochelle lent the vigor of her personality to the fulness of her voice in a number of solos, including “Out of the Shadows” and “Lovelight in Your Eyes”, while a distinct impression was made by Miss Ruth Bucknell in an operatic number, “Behold! Titania”, and Mr. David Loffnan’s fine baritone had full play in “A Vulcan Am I.”

One of the beautiful scenes introduced the Littlejohns in Jewel Land, the stage being a glitter of jewels, against royal blue velvet curtains. The Littlejohns, a mass of gems, performed juggling feats on large jewelled balls, while a seductive dance was also given by Miss Littlejohn, the whole being a vision of Eastern splendor. Some quaint scenery was displayed in a great bird cage, to which birds of every feather trooped in fantastic dances, an artistic exhibition, being finally given by the nimble feet of a Bird of Paradise (Ivy Towe), and the Dancing Vulture (Phyllis Small). A ballet of mother of pearl shells also formed a lovely setting to Silver Bell at the conclusion of the first act, while brides from the Elizabethan and Louis XVI. periods to the far future made an exquisite scene before the final curtain of the pantomime.  Among the vaudeville acts, a thrill was created with the aid of a horizontal bar on top of an eiffel tower, at one end of which was attached an aeroplane whizzing round at a great pace to the accompaniment of a noisy engine, and at the other a trapezist, who performed daring feats on long and short poles set at right angles.  Mr. Joe Brennan and Mr. Douglas Calderwood as a monocled “silly ass” created a diversion, the latter occupying a box during the dialogue. A “little game of golf,” played by Messrs. Heslop, Compton Coutts and Calderwood add Miss Maidie Field, caused some hearty laughter, proving one of the most humorous “stunts” of the night. Others who added to the merriment were Trueheart (Miss Ida Newton) and Joybell (Miss Mione Stewart). A group of children also took part in an athletic turn.

The pantomime was produced by Mr. Frank Neil, while the ballets, dances and ensembles were arranged by Miss Minnie Hooper, and the costumes carried out by Miss Ethel Moar. Mr. Harry Jacobs was musical director, the lyrics and music being the composition of the Australian, Mr. Hamilton Webber, Mus. Bac. At the conclusion, Mr. John Fuller announced there would be matinees and evening performances every day this week, and spoke in appreciative terms of the work of the company, Mr. Frank Neil briefly responding. Numerous floral tributes were received by the artists.

Evidently, from Mr. Fuller’s announcement, there will be two performances on Christmas day.

The Age (Melbourne), Monday, 24 December 1923, p.8,

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heslop musaical Numbers 02


Ward–Fuller’s First Pantomime

Of the audience that filled every part of the Palace Theatre on Saturday, many, no doubt, were inspired with curiosity to se how the relatively young Ward–Fuller combination would quit itself in its first essay at pantomime. By their very presence, however, they showed their confidence that the firm would not fail in a different branch of the entrepreneur’s art. That confidence was not misplaced.

“Mother Goose” was the pantomime chosen by Mr. Hugh Ward. The plot he adopted did not seem to be strictly orthodox—if there is such a thing as orthodoxy in the nursery legends on which all good pantomimes are based. Squire Hardflint, whose name is an index to his nature, is urged by the Demon Vulture to steal Mother Goose’s pet goose Anastacia, the promise being given that in the Demon’s good time he would be told the magic word which impels the bird to lay an egg of gold instead of an ordinary one. With the assistance of his nephew, Fitzrabbit, who after all, does not seem such a bad fellow, the Squire steals the goose: but Mother Goose and her sailor son, Jack, rescue the precious bird. Held to a promise to grant his pretty daughter Silverbell any request, as a birthday gift, the Squire is compelled to recognise as her suitor young Jack, whom he hates, but the magic word that coaxes forth the golden egg has not yet been discovered, and he gives the suitor one year in which to discover it. Aided by the timely intervention of the Fairy Paradise, Jack accomplishes his task, and the pantomime, like all other pantomimes, ends with wedding bells.

Chief interest centred on Miss Dorothy Brunton, who, in the role of principal girl (Silverbell), was making her first appearance in pantomime. Miss Brunton’s work in musical comedy is too well known for her to be treated in any sense as a novice, however. Let it suffice to say that her winsome personality and sure touch won for her fresh triumphs, even in the relatively slight role of a pantomime principal girl. Her songs and duets with Jack were sweetly sung. As Jack, Miss Amy Rochelle made a dashing and vivacious principal boy, her powerful soprano voice making the most of the songs that fell to her lot.  She wore some striking costumes. The comedy was in the hands of Messrs. Charles Heslop (Fitzrabbit), Oliver Peacock (Squire Hardflint), Joe Brennan (Mother Goose), William Hassan (the Goose), and Compton Coutts (Fitzrabbit’s servant). Mr. Heslop’s quiet humour lifted many of the scenes above the level of ordinary pantomime, his tennis and golfing burlesques being especially amusing. Mr. Brennan had a quieter style than many pantomime dames, but it loses nothing in effectiveness. Mr. Hassan is a veteran animal impersonator, and although restricted by the limitations of his part, he made to goose an entertaining bird.  Mr. Peacock made the most of the part of a villian who has his softer moments, as the father of such a girl as Silverbell should have. Misses Ida Newton and Mione Stewart acceptably filled the parts of Trueheart (the second “boy”), and his sweetheart Joybell, and Miss Maidie Field did well in a small comedy part. As the Fairy Paradise, Miss Ruth Bucknall acted and sang with charm; and Mr. David Loffman made an impressive Demon. Mr. Douglas Calderwood has only a small part as a circus manager, but he also has the responsibilities of stage manager on his shoulders.  A word of praise is due, too, to the daintily dressed girls taking part in the various ballets and ensembles, with special mention of the children—some of them very tiny tots—whose work told a story of intelligence and careful training.

Of the specialty turns, the Littlejohns presented one that was strikingly beautiful. The Royal Wonders, a troupe consisting of nine girls—some almost babies—and two boys, contributed some clever ground tumbling and pyramid displays; while the Fredos, two men, showed how it is possible to do tumbling and balancing, and play the violin at the same time. Oscar Mirano presented the “Flying Torpedo,” in which he does acrobatic feats while whirling around on a ladder which spins on a tower, his weight being counterbalanced by a partner seated in a torpedo-shaped airship at the other end of the ladder.

At the end of the performance Mr. John Fuller briefly expressed his thanks to the public for their reception of the pantomime. He specially mentioned Mr. Frank Neil, the producer, and Miss Minnie Hooper, the ballet mistress, both of whom had to respond to the calls of the audience.

The Argus (Melbourne), Monday, 23 December 1923, p.10,

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“Mother Goose” at the Palace

Should a pantomime artist be able to act? At first glance that question appears to be ridiculous, but when you come to think about It, there is almost an air of novelty In the idea that pantomime characters should be living beings with definite individualities, and not merely pegs on which to hang the delightful hotch-potch of sentiment, popular song, stunts and topical allusion which comprises a modern pantomime.

In “Mother Goose,” which opened to a big house at the Palace on Saturday evening, Mr. Hugh J. Ward shows that artists who are able to act convincingly strengthen greatly a pantomime cast. In this one, not only does a thread of the story run through the whole performance, but most of the characters bear an air of verisimilitude. Miss Dorothy Brunton, as the principal girl, for Instance, makes her part a witty, vivacious little person with a mind of her own. Mr. Joe Brennan, as the dame, abandons discussions on gin and/or late husbands, to betray the characteristics of an elderly female fond of her goose and her son.  Miss Amy Rochelle is as principal boyish as is compatible with that incongruous creation. Mr. Charles Heslop, more at home, and consequently funnier in this show than his last, makes quite a person out of the eccentric Fitzrabbit.

As a production “Mother Goose” is colorful, happy, quick-moving and refreshingly clean. It contains not one dubious remark or situation. Possibly that is because the whole cast is strong enough to get its effects without adventitious aids. If the show has a fault, it lies in the opening. The play takes some twenty minutes to get under way, during which the action is stereotyped and unimportant.  In the third scene the principals make their traditional entrances—cheers from the villagers, dame falling out of cart, and that sort of thing—but from that moment everything goes well. A little cutting down will set matters right.

The singing strength is unusual. Strong, true, tuneful voices are abundant. In not many pantomimes can the principal boy, principal girl, two villains, fairy queen, dame and second boy and girl all contribute solos with success. Furthermore, they are assisted by an attractive, energetic and graceful chorus, which is a feature in Itself. Several songs will catch on, including the old-fashioned but likely “How’s Everything?” (sung by Miss Rochelle), “Love Came When I First Met You” (duet). “Running Wild” (sung by Miss Brunton), “Oh, You Son of a Gun” (sung by Miss Mione Stewart), and “Strut Miss Lizzie” (Miss Rochelle again).

Miss Rochelle adds to her laurels with yet another principal boy part (her sixth). Miss Brunton, of course, is our Dorothy. In the ungainly disguise of the goose, Mr. William Hassan is remarkably expressive. The regulation parts of Fairy Queen, Demon Vulture, Squire Hardflint, Trueheart (second boy), Joybell (second girl), and Starts, are most capably filled by Miss Ruth Bucknall, Mr. David Loffman, Mr. Oliver Peacock, Miss Ida Newton, Miss Mione Stewart, and Mr. Compton Coutts respectively.

There are four specialties, which is uncommon, and three of them—the Littlejohns, the Miranos, and the Royal Wonders—are particularly good.—


The Herald (Melbourne), Monday, 24 December 1923, p.10,

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“Mother Goose”

Crammed With Good Things

This year Mr. Hugh J. Ward has set out to show how much it is possible to get into a pantomime. Not content with a lot of gorgeousness, some new music and a selection of jokes from “The Puntomisist’s Vade Mecum,” he has gathered together a company of exceptional strength, put them under an energetic young producer, amassed a nearly new selection of songs, a wealth of humor, and quite a record number of funny sketches. Mixing these well together, he has added a chorus and ballet fit to compare with those round the corner at the Princess, a gorgeous production and a fine orchestra. The result is “Mother Goose,” which opened at the Palace on Saturday. The only thing he has excluded is suggestiveness.

This pantomime bids fair to be the most successful production put on in that particular theatre since the advent of the Ward management. The cream of the cast of “Tons of Money” appears in it, along with several pantomime specialists and four picked acts from the Fuller circuit.

Charles Heslop assumes the nondescript part of Fitzrabblt, in which he is much happier than he was in the straight farce. He gets in a number of the sketches which made him famous.  Dorothy Brunton is an exceptionally good principal girl, and Miss Amy Rochelle’s work needs no further praise than that her principal boy is even better than the other five she has played. As the Dame, Joe Brennan is excellent, and special praise must also be given to William Hassan for his incarnation of the goose. The remainder of the cast worthily follows in the steps of these leaders.

As a pantomime. “Mother Goose” combines the best features of old-fashioned productions, such as fidelity to plot and unity, with those modern tendencies, such as fine ensembles, wealth of color, and first-rate special acts. The hand of the master is in it all.

There is no necessity to compare or contrast the two pantomimes. The best advice to playgoers is to see both of them.

The Sporting Globe (Melbourne), Wednesday, 26 December 1923, p.9,

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N.B. The competing pantomime was the J.C. Williamson Ltd. production of Aladdin staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre starring English comedienne Ada Reeve in the title role.

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“Mother Goose.”

Surely “Mother Goose,” the panto which is filling the Palace Theatre, will go down to memory as the singing pantomime. Everybody in the cast seems to be able to sing so well that it is like a comic opera show rather than a pantomime. The choruses are excellent, and the bird chorus, with the wicked vulture at its head, makes such fine effect that it is next door to grand opera.

“Mother Goose” is bright and colorful throughout. From the first moment the curtain goes up to show the pyjama-clad kiddies with their bedtime story book, who are interrupted by the wicked vulture and the good fairy, it goes with a snap.

Mother Goose is a lively old lady, and her goose is a marvel; she does not know it is the goose that lays the golden eggs, but the vulture, who is the demon, tells the wicked Squire, and the Squire resolves to steal it. He wants Fitzrabbit to marry his daughter Silver Bell, and he gets him to help him steal the goose so that they will be rich.

There are many other people in the story. Ruth comes along and bullies Fitzrabbit. There is a lion tamer, and others come and go.

The scenery is good, the village scene in the first act being charming. There are others more gorgeous, but not more attractive.

The ballets will be a big feature, for they are excellent, the children’s ballet being very fine. The youthful ballerina and her partner are wonderful dancers and most graceful. The little girl, Ivy Towe, does some excellent toe work, while Phyllis Small, who takes the part of the boy, is a graceful and beautiful dancer, and the manner in which she catches and holds her partner in the flying movements of the dance would do credit to any one of the expert masculine dancers whom she impersonates. They are exquisite dancers.

The Royal Wonders, a team of child acrobats, will surely create a furore. Their work is astounding. A lip of a child, who looks a mere baby, wheels in somersaults across the stage so fast that arms and legs are blurred, and it seems just a flash of something white and gold—she is flaxen haired—that makes the onlookers blink with surprise.

Amy Rochelle is a dashing principal boy who would sing the heart out of any girl. Her methods have greatly improved and matured since she was last seen in Melbourne. Her work has gained in finish and refinement without losing any of its dash and effectiveness.

Dorothy Brunton is a fascinating principal girl, with real charm, and her acting and singing are charming. Joe Brennan is a splendid Mother Goose, with quick humorous methods, which are admirably free from any touch of vulgarity.

Oliver Peacock’s Squire is something out of the ordinary in pantomime, dignified, commanding, and wicked, while his singing is excellent. Fitzrabbit, who enters into vile plots with him, in Charles Heslop’s hands is a versatile individual with a quiet, dry turn of wit all his own. His episode with the lion tamer (Douglas Calderwood) and Ruth (Maidie Field) is most diverting, with an unexpected ending. Maidie Field’s comedy is always amusing.

The Goose of Wm. Hassan is a wonderful bird with infinite expression and an intelligence that is uncanny. The children just love it.

There is a second boy played by Ida Newton, who is dashing and most effective, and his sweetheart, played by Mione Stewart, is dainty and sings charmingly.

The good fairy, Ruth Bucknell, has a beautiful voice, which is heard to great advantage, and the vulture, Dave Loffman, who is the demon of the story, not only has a splendid voice, but his acting is really dramatic. Their duets together are exceptionally fine, and make a big hit. It is an unusually powerful cast, with an individuality which tells in every scene.

Table Talk (Melbourne), Thursday, 27 December 1923, p.34

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In recent years the Messrs. Fuller have specialised in pantomimes with an appeal to youth. In the “Mother Goose” at the Palace they still make it the children's pantomime, with that extra polish which stands criticism from children of the larger growth. So it comes that Dorothy Brunton brings all the ease and experience of many musical comedy triumphs to such a comparatively simple part, as the pantomime girl has little to do, after all, but give pretty ear-pleasing songs something more than their musical value. But one star will not make a pantomime constellation, and a great many good bright ones have been massed for “Mother Goose,” perhaps the oldest, certainly next to "Cinderella" the most popular, of all pantomime tales. To be just, one should on a first night look only for the colour of a pantomime, leaving its comedy and personal character for later discovery. Though in personnel the ballets and chorus range from age to infancy, so the pony ballets and puny ballets predominate, and here the appeal to the children is definite and irresistible. Youth calls to youth across the footlights, and the entente is complete. The many extra features which have somehow been wedged in make the vaudeville side very prominent, and the Messrs. Fuller have very special facilities for equipping pantomime on this particular side. What could be more dazzling, for example, than the act of the Littlejohns, who while they balance on rolling globes go through clever juggling acts, while a thousand facets project with each movement fresh showers of glittering light. The Royal Wonders are a team of nine little girls and two boys, who, amongst other feats, are dexterous in building living pyramids. The Fredos are musical tumblers who play the violin in all sorts of strange attitudes, though why anybody should make a point of playing a violin under his leg or behind his back when there are so many better ways of doing it, still needs rational explanation. Dazzling and daring of aim is the flying torpedo act of Oscar Mirano, in which some effective properties are used.

“Mother Goose” the spectacle is happily reinforced on the personal side. There is the daintiness and the definite touch of Dorothy Brunton, paired with the breezy dash of Amy Rochelle. Both wear some very beautiful costumes, and wonderful head-dresses, which look like the forbidden plumes, but are only make-believe. As a second boy and girl Ida Newton and Mione Stewart play up judiciously to their principals, chief of whom on the comedy side is Mr. Heslop, much better placed in pantomime than comedy. There is just a suspicion that Mr. Heslop has had to collect his jokes in a hurry, but the new humour would hardly do for pantomime, and Mr. Heslop excels in such extravagances as burlesque tennis and golf. Mr. Joe Brennan is again a quiet, yet effective, dame. There will be more to say of the pantomime when we know more about it.

The Australasian (Melbourne), Saturday, 29 December 1923, p.27,

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The lone voice of dissent amongst the critics was The Bulletin’s veteran Melbourne-based scribe, Edmund Fisher who was singularly unimpressed with the proceedings.

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The current procession of songs, circus acts and crosstalk turns miscalled “Mother Goose," at Melbourne Palace, is a modest donation to the merriment of Christmas. 

The hand of the managerial economist is visible in the sparsely populated ballets, and, barring a final tableau of strutting nymphs, the eye is rarely invited to loiter on the scenery. Moreover, a good deal of the programme recalls the turns of more or less recent vaudeville artists. Two clowns mournfully scraping fiddles in acrobatic postures, and a pair of average jugglers remarkable for their blinding wealth of rhine-stones, are among the more unexciting intruders. The whirling of a death-defying signor on a merry-go-round of his own devising is accepted as a breathless novelty, though his business on a trapeze over the orchestra chiefly excites speculation as to whether he would fall on the trombonist or the second fiddle if he lost his grip. Of the principals the most momentous in point of physique is the leading lady, Amy Rochelle, who now looks like a fugitive from a weight-lifting act. From this lady's sturdy torso issue various ballads, apparently written to exhibit the untutored lustiness of her upper register. Clemency is extended to Dorothy Brunton, who seems dwarfed by her meagre opportunities. Joe Brennan, as the Dame, is a doss-house for homeless jests. Also his croaky undertone isn’t overburdened with fun. Dressed as a nightmare of wayward girlhood he has some tedious chat with a monocled johnny in a box. Heslop’s whimsicality tends now and then to resemble the corybantics of a cat on hot bricks, but there are moments in his golf sketch and elsewhere which are genuinely diverting. Squire Hardflint is lost in the heavy personality of Oliver Peacock, David Loffman is a substantial Demon Vulture, and William Hassan’s goose is excellent and is almost the only evidence that the absent fairy-tale is hanging about waiting to make itself heard. It is a pity to see Mione Stewart tucked away among the also-rans. She is more appealing than Maidie Field, whose manner is productive of critical unrest. A group of infant tumblers and dancers are conspicuous, Ivy Towe among the latter doing some pretty solo work.

The Bulletin (Sydney), 27 December 1923, pp.34 & 36

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