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Priscilla: Queen of the Desert The Musical

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A tale of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus, named Priscilla, and take their show to the middle of the Australian outback.

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    6 Reviews
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      02.04.2011 21:17
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      Loved the whole thing

      Felicia, Mitzi Mitosis and Bernadette, 2 drag queens and a transexual in one big pink bus touring the outback of Australia from Sydney to Ayres Rock. Felicias dream is to sing Kylie Minogue on the top of Ayres Rock, and their get up to a lot of mischief and trouble when their bus breaks down What a basis for a storyline. They tour various bars and meet aboriginies, bogans (australian chavs), thai brides, and a very friendly mechanic who Bernadette takes a fancy to.

      I went to see Priscilla at the Palace theatre in the West End in London on thursday. I managed to get very cheap tickets from London theatre tickets.com. We sat in the Gods and didnt have the best view but the music was so loud and we could still see the amazing costumes so we didnt mind too much. Once I had got over the vertigo and the music kicked in I knew I was in for a great night.

      The songs include 'I will survive', 'Hot Stuff' and many other camp disco classics. The dance routines were great and each character was excellently played. The best parts are the one liners and sexual innuendo, all gay of course.

      I wont tell you how the story ends but obviously its happily as its a musical and as camp as christmas. The set was great with a huge bus on stage, a rotating stage, big backdrops, the 3 supreme look a likes in harnesses for a large part of the show, a huge high heel.

      I would definately recommend this show if you can get a good deal on tickets. Buy your sweets and snacks before entering as the theatre is so expensive for all those little extras. The theatre itself is steeped in history, and I wouldnt recommend the Gods at the Balcony level if your scared of heights!

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      08.12.2010 17:01
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      A fantastic fun night out !

      Last week I went to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the theatre for the fourth time. I would have reviewed this wonderful musical sooner but seeing as I had booked it again I thought I'd wait to review it with fresh eyes and more informed opinions! The show is based on the film 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' which was released in 1994 starring Hugo Weaving, Terrence Stamp and Guy Pearce. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical opened in Sydney, Australia in 2006. After a successful run it moved to London in 2009 and will be premiering on Broadway in 2011.

      The Story

      Tick (stage name Mitzi Mitosis) is "Sydney's premier drag queen" - dressing up as a women and miming other people's songs on the stage every night. When he gets a phone call from his ex-wife asking him to head to Alice Springs to finally meet his 6 year old son he decides he has had enough of the abuse he faces night after night and decides that a change of scenery might be what he needs. He persuades his recently widowed transsexual friend Bernadette to come along and to Bernadette's disappointment, Tick's younger friend Adam (stage name Felicia) whose aim in life it is to climb Ayr's Rock and sing a medley of Kylie songs. The trio embark on a road trip through the Australian outback in a bus they christen "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", visiting towns such as Coober Pedy where the locals have never met a homosexual never mind a drag queen. When Priscilla breaks down in the middle of the desert, a mechanic called Bob comes to their rescue and joins in their adventure.

      The cast

      When I first saw the show the three lead roles were played as following:

      Tick - Jason Donovan. Tick is a drag queen in Sydney who is desperate to get away for a while. He decides to travel up to 'the Alice' to see his ex-wife and son and perform in a show up there. Jason Donovan was okay in the role - a decent voice, quite believable as Tick but I found he was more about the novelty value. I saw Jason Donovan twice (before he was replaced with Ben Richards) and really enjoyed watching him but just because he is quite famous and it was exciting to see him! With him in the role they were able to make reference to Kylie as Charlene in Neighbours and himself as Scott (see quote below) which brought in the courtesy cheers and laughs. He also had a good relationship with the boy who played his son Benji and worked well with the other main characters.

      Bernadette - Tony Sheldon. Bernadette is a recently widowed post-op transsexual who lives her life as a woman and hates people making reference to her past life as Ralph. She is a lot more mature than Tick and certainly Felicia who she clashes with on numerous occasions. Tony Sheldon is a theatre legend, playing the role when it opened in Sydney, continuing it in London and will be opening the show on Broadway next year. I saw Tony in role twice and he was incredible - certainly the best singer of the main characters and has fantastic stage presence.

      Felicia (or Adam) - Oliver Thornton. Felicia is a young 'out an proud' transsexual who is obsessed with sex, clothes, bitching and Kylie! Oliver Thompson is amazing in the role and has been rewarded with many awards such as Best Supporting Actor in a Musical in the Broadway Awards and Theatrechoice awards which are both chosen by the public. He's also absolutely gorgeous and gets big cheers when he is seen without his top on!

      Only Oliver Thornton from the original cast is still in the role. Tick is now played by Ben Richards who has picked up the role well and makes a more believable camp, gay guy. Don Gallagher is the current Bernadette and is just as good as Tony Sheldon. He has an excellent singing voice and good comic timing and has fit straight in. I've seen him twice now and he's my favourite cast member of everyone I've seen.

      Notable mentions for the role of Bob and Cynthia. Bob is currently played by Ray Meagher who is most famous as Alf from Home and Away. In fact he is the reason that my friend Francesca and I went to see Priscilla for the fourth time! He was really funny in the role and had a good relationship with Bernadette on the stage. His voice was average but it didn't really matter because most people were just giggling away through his song and he got the hugest cheer of the night! Cynthia, Bob's mail order bride is played by Kanako Nakano who without doubt gives the most hilarious performance of a song in the show. She sings Pop Muzic with the aid of ping-pong balls in front of a crowd of drunk men, much to the dismay of her husband Bob. Another mention for a minor character, Shirley, a woman who works in the bar in Coober Pedy. She sings the song 'Action' without changing her facial expression once, she has boobs hanging down by her waist and a mullet. Absolutely brilliant - I looked around the audience and couldn't see a single person who was not in hysterics laughing!

      The Divas are played by Emma Lindars, Portia Emare and Charlotte Riby. They are the most wonderfully talented group, all fantastic vocalists who sing some songs solo as well as together as a group. They descend from the skies to sing songs as a soundtrack and often sing when the drag queens are miming. The first time I went to see it, before Charlotte Riby joined, one of the Divas was played by Zoe Birkett who was in the first season of Pop Idol which was won by Will Young!

      The songs

      The songs are very similar to the ones used in the movie but have been updated in some cases for the stage. A fundamental change they have made for the stage adaptation is Felicia's (Adam's) dream to sing a medley of Kylie songs at the top of Ayr's Rock whereas in the movie his obsession is with Abba and King's Canyon. This was just to give the show an update and with Jason Donovan in a lead role, as mentioned earlier, it led to some jokes! A good proportion of the songs in the movie were the soundtrack and this issue is overcome in the theatre production with the use of the three 'Divas'. They descend from the skies at various points during the show to sing classic songs such as Downtown, I've Never Been to Me, I Will Survive and MacArthur Park.

      Undoubtedly for me, the highlight of the show is Felicia on the roof of Priscilla singing Follie! Delirio Vano È Questo! (From La Traviata) dressed in silver spandex with hilarious, exaggerated gestures. The miming songs such as this and I've Never Been To Me are very funny, but the main characters can actually sing which is proved in songs such as I Say A Little Prayer, Both Sides Now and Hot Stuff. Another brilliant part of the show takes place in a small village in the outback where the locals sing 'Thank God I'm A Country Boy' where the cast find members of the audience to come up and dance on the stage with them. I've not been picked yet but have decided that next time I'm going to hang around the edges of the stalls so that I get chosen!!

      Best quotes

      "That's just what this country needs. A cock, in a frock, on a rock" (Bernadette when Felicia tells her of his dream to sing a Kylie medley on the top of Ayr's Rock).

      Bernadette: "No, I'll join this conversation on the proviso that we stop bitching about people, talking about wigs, dresses, bust sizes, penises, drugs, night clubs, and bloody Kylie!"
      Tick: "Doesn't give us much to talk about then, does it?"

      "Now listen here, you mullet. Why don't you just light your tampon, and blow your box apart? Because it's the only bang you're ever gonna get, sweetheart!" (Bernadette to Shirley in Coober Pedy).

      Bernadette: "Delinquents Kylie, Hot pants Kylie... she'll always be Charlene to me."
      Tick: "I was always a Scott man myself!"

      The costumes

      The costumes in the show are one of the things that make it so much fun and raise the most laughs. The film version won an Oscar for the costume design which shows how great the looks were. However, the musical gave the costume designers a new challenge of recreating some of the outlandish looks while going even more camp and over the top for the stage. Apparently, the budget for the film was $15,000 Australian dollars whereas the budget for the theatre production was $1.5 million which gave the designers much more room for creativity!

      When I leave the show that is what sticks in my head - the image of Felicia and Tick walking into a bar in the middle of the outback wearing full on drag with Tick in a dress made of flip-flops. The hats made of mops which then become pom-pops are another favourite but the ultimate group costume moment for me is the funeral scene! Anyone who has seen the show will know what I'm talking about but if the show is anything to be believed, drag queens have the most interesting funerals around!

      The wide range of costumes is showcased brilliantly in the closing moments where all the cast come out to take a bow. We have ostriches, iguanas (possibly?!), kangaroos, koalas and finally, the three main characters in stunning dresses which end up forming the Sydney Opera House!

      The Theatre

      Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is currently showing at the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, central London. The nearest tube stations are Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus which are just a 5 minute walk away and very accessible from all over London. The Palace Theatre was built in the 1880s and has hosted productions such as Les Miserables, The Woman in White, Spamalot before Priscilla opened in March 2009.

      The theatre is quite big with stalls, dress circle, upper circle and then a balcony at the top. I was really surprised to see that the capacity is only 1400 whereas other theatres in London such as the Apollo Victoria (2208) and Drury Lane Theatre (2220) which I have visited recently are so much bigger yet have fewer tiers. The Palace Theatre is quite narrow which gives quite an intimate feel which makes you feel like you are part of the Priscilla party!

      Price and availability

      When Priscilla first came out I had to wait ages to go and see it because the prices were so high. I have now seen it four times because it has become one of the shows which do a 'ticket for a tenner' on lastminute.com. There is an additional £3 to pay as a booking fee but £13 for a theatre ticket is fantastic value considering you can pay that price for a cinema ticket in central London. The £10 seats are 'best available upper circle' and can really differ depending really on luck. I have had seats on the front row of the grand circle which were fantastic, but the third time I went with a large group from work and we had the back row of the balcony with restricted viewing. One person was sat behind a big pillar, one had to stand up to see over the person in front and two of us sat in the aisle just to get a better view, until we were told off by ushers. I don't know how they even spotted us so far back!

      Priscilla is showing Monday - Saturday at 7.30pm with matinee performances at 2.30pm on Thursdays and Saturdays. They are on sale until 28 May 2011 at the moment and hopefully the run will be extended. The website http://www.priscillathemusical.com/ currently sells tickets for £65, £45, £25, £20 and really, what you get is what you pay for. I would strongly recommend going for the deals when they are on, unless you want to go on the most popular night, Saturday, when it really doesn't matter - you will always pay the top prices! The running time is 2 hours 40 minutes with a 20 minute interval where they sell ice creams and drinks etc.

      Overall

      A fantastic West End show for a fun night out with friends. The cast are excellent in the roles and the costumes, songs and some hilarious moments make for wonderful viewing and a great night out. It's a big spectacle of a performance, more than any other show I've seen and it's one that people seem to go back to over and over again. It has the audience laughing from start to finish but also has strong messages about love, acceptance and ignorance. If only everyone could be like Bob! 

      Go see this wonderful show! 5/5!!

      (Have also posted this review on Ciao)

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        07.01.2010 14:50
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        One to put you in a great mood, forget your troubles for a while

        I went to visit this on a recent trip to london.

        Admittedly it wasnt my first choice and it was a question of cost that i went to see it, on the day i went to the booking office at leicester square this one was on offer. So why not

        I wasnt sure what to expect but when I came out, i felt so uplifted, if your on a downer and a bit fed up, this is the one for you.

        The costumes are beautiful and its so well put together. I was very sceptical before and now i`m raving about it.

        Its the tale of three colourful, slightly weird friends or sets off on a bus on a trip acrooss the desert, i laughed all the way, and cried in places. It was so refreshing to watch something without nasty lauguage and violence.

        This is definately one for the whole family having seen the children enjoying and and full of chatter on leaving.
        My partner who really didnt want to go is now a big fan, and has even reccommended it to alot of people.

        He said, i quote, "fed up?, feeling down? Head for the desert with priscilla"

        And i wholeheartedly agree with him

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        16.09.2009 15:31
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        A brilliant night out at the Theatre.

        Priscilla: Queen of the Desert The Musical is honestly one of the best nights I have ever had at the theatre.
        Having seen the film a few times I knew the storyline and was very much looking forward to seeing how it would be transported onto the stage. My friend who accompanied me to the theatre had never seen the film so was not sure at all what to expect. Neither of us were disappointed in the slightest.
        Our fun night started when we bought our feather boa's at the box office and ordered our 'priscilla' flashing glass drinks at the bar for the interval. We took our seats and started chatting to our fellow theater goers who were a complete mix of people, some dressed up with glitter and glamour, some not.
        The set was very simple but very effective with the bus 'Prisciila' taking main stage. The actors played their parts brilliantly and the costumes were fabulous and very imaginative.
        As the 3 drag queens lip sync their songs I was not sure how this would work on the stage. Brilliantly they had 3 'divas' suspended on wires above the stage who sang the songs, also as they were up high they did not distract you from what was happening on the stage.
        We had a fantastic time with lots of humour from the minute the curtain went up until the curtain came down. It really was a great night and I would highly recommend that you get your tickets booked to see this musical.

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        22.07.2009 17:46
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        All done in the best possible taste!

        If you haven't seen the movie of the same name, on which this musical is based-then let me initially explain-Priscilla is a bus- and should you decide to book your seats, then hold tight guys and gals - ring that bell, get ready to roll, cos it's gonna be a bumpy ride.

        Three friends, two who currently work as drag queens and one ex drag queen, (having been persuaded to come out of retirement), set out to go across Australia. They are not only going to do a club gig in Alice Springs, but also one of them is to be reunited with the club's owner-his ex wife and his son. The wife and son being the result of a momentary - well what can I say?- experiment on the other side? It is a relationship that the travelling companions are blissfully unaware of. At first. You follow the ups and downs of their journey, the changes to their relationships with each other and the people they meet along the route.

        The three travelling companions are very different characters, but all larger than life characters, none the less. You have the very young, very camp and very bitchy member of the trio. The ex husband and absentee father who is trying to become sensible and "own" his responsibilities, whilst nevertheless remaining a "very close friend of Kylie!!! " Then my absolute favourite and to my mind the star of the show- the older ex drag queen, who now lives his life as a her and is for all the world to see a woman.

        The show is full of the most amazing, colourful costumes, with great songs and is always alive, but like all good theatre there is also pathos- theatre is after all about life.

        It is very camp, and when it is not being very very camp- it is being camper. The bitchy witty lines come thick and fast. There are many visual jokes as well- so you need to be paying attention.

        The staging has been well done and the sets are clever and work well.

        I am an avid theatre goer, and I have been trying to think of any show I can say it is similar to- and whilst the closest is Les Cages Aux Folles, it is not the same- so it is a experience all of it's own.

        I have not listed the cast, as there is only one cast member who will be well known to non theatre buffs and as the show as been on a while now- I don't want his fans, to be disappointed if his contract has ended by the time they book- as I have yet to hear who will be replacing him.

        One of the reasons I love the theatre, is that when it is well done- it transports you away from your world and any troubles and cares you may have. It takes you to a another place. Well the three of us that went all agreed that though the theatre isn't cheap, especially during a credit crunch- it is well worth the price, for it is a medicine that makes you feel so good.

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          14.05.2009 13:23
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          Great Entertainment

          Having seen the original film in the late 90's I was keen to see how this would be translated into a stage musical. Add to the fact that Jason 'Scott' Donovan was taking a leading role and I was itching to book my seats! (If you don't get the 'Scott' reference you are clearly not a big enough fan of early episodes of 'Neighbours'!)

          ~Background~
          The film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, was first screened in 1994 at the San Francisco Film Festival to rave reviews. When it screened at Cannes there were fights to get to the best seats in the auditorium. In only a matter of day's distributors from all over the world secured the rights to screen it and it went on to win a bevy of awards including BAFTAs for costume and make-up design. The film became one of the most successful Australian films ever made.

          In 2002 Alan Scott, a UK screenwriter, began to see the potential of the film as a musical and teamed up with Michael Hamlyn who was a producer of the original film. A few years later they had successfully negotiated the rights to the musical during which time work had already started on its production.

          The show finally had its opening in Australia in 2006 and quickly became a sensation selling out 50,000 seats in advance and playing for 11 months at Sydney's Lyric Theatre. It then moved to Melbourne for a 7-month sell out show cementing it as a hit. The show was taken to New Zealand and back to Sydney before coming to the west end in March 2009

          ~Plot Summary~
          Jason Donovan plays Tick (Mitzi Mitosis is her drag name), a long time drag queen who gets a call from his wife to come perform in Alice Springs at her casino and meet his 6 year old son - its perhaps worth making clear that Tick is gay despite the wife and son!. Tick gathers together Bernadette (played by Tony Sheldon) a retired member of an infamous group, 'Les Girls', and transsexual, to perform with him in Alice Springs along with Adam (drag name of Felicia; played by Oliver Thornton) a young drag queen with oodles of confidence that teeters into arrogance! They set off on a road trip in an old school bus to get to Alice Springs - although Ticks's two companions only think they are heading to Alice Springs to perform and not meet his wife and son (who they don't even know about).

          ~Performances~
          Tony Sheldon puts in an amazing performance as Bernadette; touching yet feisty giving a proper sense of the difficulties a transsexual goes through. Oliver Thornton plays the outrageous Adam with vigor and captures the 'on-the-surface' bravado and shallowness with ease - it also helps that he has a body to die for since he spends a significant proportion of the show in a state of undress! And now to the other main character; Jason Donovan as Tick. For those that know the film they will remember Tick as a slightly awkward drag queen who didn't have the same camp tendencies as Adam. Knowing this, I appreciated Donovan's fairly accurate portrayal of Tick but, from the other side of the fence, if you don't know the film, it can appear that Donovan is getting it all wrong - gangly and far less at ease than Sheldon and Thornton. But this is the point, so don't hold it against him. Donovan puts in a charming performance and isn't afraid to poke the odd bit of fun at himself (watch out for the line about Scott from Neighbors).
          The show is full of bright colours and recognisable music making it easy to join in the fun - I've rarely been to a performance mid week where the whole crowd was clapping along and/or up on their feet and dancing!. It draws you in tremendously well and once it's got you its hard not to enjoy it thoroughly. The ensemble cast was superb with high levels of energy all the way through. They also deserve credit for being able to perform such great dance routines in such wildly huge costumes.

          ~The Lip-Sync Dilemma~
          So, the film centred on drag acts who lip-synced to popular music.... it wouldn't be much of a show if the main cast spent their time lip-syncing to a backing track would it. How to solve this problem? Suspend three incredibly talented female singers from wires above the stage, dress them in amazingly over the top outfits and lover them to hover high above the stage. They sing and Tick, Bernadette and Adam lip-sync to them. This is an imaginative solution that works really well. The Diva's (as they are known) add a great dimension and, since they are suspended, and fairly motionless, they do not distract from the action beneath them on stage.

          ~Music~
          Musicals, by their nature, need a good score to keep you involved. A camp setting such as this lends itself to some of the greatest combinations of music, choreography and costumes I have ever seen! We are taken through delights such as a rendition of Tina Turner's 'What's Love Got To Do With It', Burt Bacharach's 'I Say A Little Prayer' and the insanely delicious 'MacArthur Park' made famous by Donna Summer: with lyrics of:

          "Someone left the cake out in the rain,
          and I don't think that I can take it,
          'cause it took so long to bake it,
          and I'll never have that recipe again "

          what else would you expect to see on stage but a troup of dancers in huge cupcake outfits?! Outrageously funny, not to mention incredibly surreal.

          I won't take you through the full set list - I don't want to ruin the surprise!

          ~Costumes and Make Up~
          Amazingly, the film had a budget of only AUD$15,000 for costumes - the musical had AUD$1.5m!!! At a budget this huge it's hardly surprising that the show turns out to be such a visual feast. In fact, Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner won the 2007 Helpmann for Best Costume Design award. From dancing paintbrushes to the Diva's dressed as cockatoos you cant help but be enthralled. And the make-up! Usually, getting extravagant make-up done for a show can take about an hour or longer per cast member but in this show the main characters change outfits about 15 times - and what respectable drag queen would keep the same make-up with each outfit?! Over to Cassie Hanlon, the multi-award winning make up designer on the film, who created over 60 make-up 'masks' for the show. In order to be able to change the make-up in a matter of moments, Cassie had moulds taken of each of the casts faces and created the make-up designs on these. They could then be moulded back onto the the cast members face in seconds. The result is fabulously gaudy make-up with enough glitter to sink a ship - perfect!

          ~The Bus!~
          The set is pretty much dominated by one thing - a AUS$1m bus! And what a bus it is. It revolves; one side completely opens up so that scenes can be set inside; its covered in hundreds of LEDs so that it can be turned into a backdrop....I want one!

          ~My One and Only Issue~
          The film, whilst being camp and frivolous in places, was aiming to deal with issues surrounding the lives of gay men. Tick is married and has a son before coming out as gay. He has never had a relationship with his son and feels ashamed of his job. How will his son react? Another key element of the film was homophobia. These elements were definitely portrayed in the musical show but perhaps in a more 'light-touch' way. I remember watching the films poignant homophobic scene and being moved to tears as well as finding it uncomfortable to watch. Admittedly, it's hard to marry a musical with such gritty drama but I did feel there was too much of a glossy sheen added occasionally that made it lose its effectiveness and meaning. It's a small point really, and only one that people who have seen the film would notice.

          ~In Conclusion~
          The show opened at the start of March 2009 and I went to see this on a Tuesday evening on the 21st of April - it was packed out and already making waves and it's clear to see why. The performances from the lead characters are solid, the costumes are amazing and the production is awesome. A little more emphasis on the darker side of the film would have been a braver option but playing it safe hasn't really affected things too much. There are plenty of musicals to choose from in the West End but I think you would be hard pressed to find one that is a big a spectacle as this - go see it, cheer loudly and dream of being a drag queen; even if you're a woman!

          ~Tickets and Timings~
          Priscilla is currently showing at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1V 8AY. Tel : 0844 755 0016
          I purchased tickets from Lastminute.com for £39.50 a seat. Normal tickets are as follows:

          Monday to Thursday evenings and Thursday matinees:
          Stalls and Dress Circle £59.25, £39.75
          Grand Circle £44.75, £24.75
          Balcony £24.75, £20.25

          Friday evenings and both Saturday performances:
          Stalls and Dress Circle £64.25, £44.75
          Grand Circle £44.75, £24.75
          Balcony £24.75, £20.25

          Running time is 2hrs 40mins (including a 20-minute interval) and the performance times are:
          7.30pm Monday to Saturday evenings
          2.30pm Thursday and Saturday matinees

          © of funkimunki. Also posted on ciao.co.uk under jonescraiga

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