Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

Makara Community Centre, Wellington

13/12/2006 - 13/12/2006

Newtown Community Centre, Wellington

12/12/2006 - 12/12/2006

Hapai Club, Upper Hutt, Wellington

09/12/2006 - 09/12/2006

Tararua Tramping Club, 4 Moncrieff St, Mt Victoria, Wellington

08/12/2006 - 08/12/2006

Island Bay Community Centre, 137 The Parade, Island Bay, Wellington

07/12/2006 - 07/12/2006

Muritai School Hall, Eastbourne, Wellington

06/12/2006 - 06/12/2006

St Judes Hall, Lyall Bay, Wellington

05/12/2006 - 05/12/2006

St Peter's Village Hall, Beach Road, Paekākāriki

02/12/2006 - 02/12/2006

Brooklyn Community Centre, Wellington

01/12/2006 - 01/12/2006

Production Details

by William Shakespeare
directed by David Lawrence


A free, no frills, no budget production.
“We wanted to see just how much it affects an audience if the only thing they have to invest in a play is their time.”

Click here for venue details

the story

King Hamlet has died.  Claudius marries his brother’s widow.  Young Hamlet is unhappy about this.  A Ghost turns up.  Hamlet pretends to be mad.  There is a play-within-a-play.  The King gets angry.  Hamlet is sent on holiday.  Ophelia picks some flowers.  The Queen has a drink.  The rest is silence.

the author

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon in April 1564.  His father John was a glover who rose through the ranks of public office to become mayor.  This allowed his son an education at the local Grammar School where he would have encountered many of the sources for his plays.  John fell into financial ruin when William was a teenager and went from being the most popular man in town to being afraid to leave his house for fear of being arrested for debt.  Furthermore, evidence tells us that the Shakespeare family, along with many of their friends, were secretly Catholic in an England still trying to come to terms with the enforced Protestant order begun by Henry VIII and ultimately consolidated by his daughter, Elizabeth I.

At 18 William married Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior and pregnant with his child. They had three children – Suzannah and the twins Judith and Hamnet (named after his parents’ best friends and neighbours).  Anecdotal evidence tells us that William was not a faithful husband and his career as an actor and dramatist meant that he spent little time in his home town, where his wife and children continued to live.  From his marriage in 1582 until he came under attack in Greene’s Groatsworth of Wit ten years later his life is a mystery.

By 1592 he was working in London as an actor and playwright.  In the interim various claims have him as a schoolteacher, a lawyer, a soldier, a doctor, a botanist, a poacher, an Italian spy, a highwayman and a horse wrangler.  He joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later the King’s Men), led by the tragedian Richard Burbage and became their principal writer.  Through the 1590s he consolidated his reputation as the master of witty, lyrical, romantic comedies, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing.  When the company shifted to their new home, the Globe, in 1599, William provided them with a repertoire that comprised of the greatest tragedies in the English language, including Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and King Lear.

At face value it might seem odd that, having previously only written three tragedies – the gory Titus Andronicus (an homage to Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy), Romeo and Juliet (which is much more about lyricism and love than it is blood and vengeance) and Julius Caesar – Shakespeare should, mid-1601, produce a work as tragic, vengeful, morbid and melancholy as Hamlet.  But Shakespeare’s son Hamnet died, aged only 11, just as his father was at the peak of his success as a comic playwright, and it can be no coincidence that around the same time he turned his back on the comedy genre and began composing much darker, more introspective work. 

While Hamlet is (as with almost all of Shakespeare’s plays) a re-telling of an already existing story – in this case originating in Saxo’s twelfth century tale of Amleth and the Frenchman Belleforest’s 1570 Histoires Tragiques – that it is named after his own son, and written with a heavy theme of paternal adulation (his father John had died just before the play’s composition) tells us more about Shakespeare’s psychology and art as a playwright than forty thousand literary critics could.

a word from the co-op
Simon and I had the idea of doing a new production of Hamlet over a year ago and I was thrilled at the thought of being able to do one of my favourite plays again, and in such a radically different style to the last production I directed of it.  We initially had very different plans – for a start, it wasn’t going to be a Bacchanals show – but when we decided to make it a free production our reasons for wanting to do the play became clear to us: as well as letting the play itself shine, we wanted to see just how much it affects an audience if the only thing they have to invest in a play is their time. 

The notion of not charging admission, and of performing in community halls, dictated what sort of production it would be and how we’d do it.  Simon and I wanted to create a sense of the theatre community giving something back to Wellington, to thank them for supporting and nurturing our careers thus far – so if you get nothing else out of the night, you at least have our gratitude!  We have been blessed with the most amazing support from the rest of the company – it takes very brave actors indeed to commit to a project as crazy as this actually seems when you think about it.  Their patience, tolerance, dedication and enthusiasm have made the last five weeks a joy, and I only hope the great time we’ve had creating this production is in some way communicated to you all – we want you to enjoy the play as much as we enjoy it. 

Hic et ubique, more cakes and ale, goo-goo goo-joob, bring on the goat! -David 


The Bacchanals are dedicated to making theatre accessible to all, be it intellectually, economically or geographically, and believe that theatregoing should be as easy an entertainment option as going to the movies or renting a DVD.  But theatre should also be an event, so The Bacchanals are also committed to fighting an onslaught of boring plays with nothing to say about the state of humanity.  If theatre has the power to change the world, then it has the responsibility to as well. 

The first Bacchanals productions were a new translation of Aristophanes’ The Frogs (performed in a carpark) and a modern-dress Othello (performed in an inner-city apartment) in 2000.  Since then The Bacchanals have produced at least one new work each year, including the NZ premiere of Sarah Kane’s Crave, a multi-media production of Euripides’ The Bacchae and a full-text, promenade production of Hamlet staged in the now-defunct ZEAL building on Victoria Street (due to become ugly apartments any day now).  Between 2003-2005 they also took suitcase productions of Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to numerous North Island small towns as part of a regular summer tour.  In 2005 their production of Antony Sher’s I.D. at BATS Theatre was named Production of the Year at the annual Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. 

Once upon a time The Bacchanals were a regular ensemble committed to producing a certain number of works each year; but as we move into the second half of the decade The Bacchanals is more an ideal, a way of working, a logo, a bank account, a website, a metaphysical concept – anyway, something stranger and harder to define.  The only thing we can say about the future with any certainty is that in 2007 The Bacchanals will present King Lear in a co-production with the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin.

You can find out more about the past, the present and the future by visiting our website at www.thebacchanals.net.  You can see photos, reviews, essays and join the mailing list to be kept in the loop about upcoming events.

Cast (in order of appearance)
Francisco a sentinel Ginny Spackman
Barnardo a sentinel Salesi Le'ota
Marcellus an officer Jonny Potts
Horatio a scholar James Stewart
The Ghost of King Hamlet Phil Peleton
Claudius brother to the late King Phil Peleton
Gertrude the Queen Jean Copland
Cornelius an ambassador Jack O'Donnell
Voltemand an ambassador Ginny Spackman
Polonius a councillor John Smythe
Laertes Polonius' son Alex Greig
Ophelia Polonius' daughter Erin Banks
Hamlet Prince of Denmark Simon Vincent
Reynaldo servant to Polonius Phil Grieve
Rosencrantz a student Alex Greig
Guildenstern a student Salesi Le'ota
Player King Phil Grieve
Player Queen Jack O'Donnell
Player Poisoner Jonny Potts
Prologue Ginny Spackman
Musician Walter Plinge
Fortinbras Prince of Norway Salesi Le'ota
A Gravedigger John Smythe
A Priest Phil Grieve
Osric a courtier Jack O'Donnell
English Ambassador Phil Grieve

Poster Erin Banks & Walter Plinge
Venue liaison James Stewart
Original Music Walter Plinge & Evil Ubercrave
Directed by David Lawrence

Theatre ,

7pm to 10.15pm, incl. interval

Much to commend and some buts

Review by John Marwick 08th Dec 2006

I like the Bacchanals. I greatly enjoyed their Dream, Twelfth Night and I.D. and, though I didn’t see their previous Hamlet, I was really looking forward to the new Hamlet – especially after reading the previous reviews on this site.

There was much to praise and enjoy in the production on the floor of the Muritai School Hall at Eastbourne on Thursday.

As always the characteristic energy and pace was there and it carried a good-sized audience through three hours of gripping performance.

The intimate traverse staging, soliloquies spoken directly to the audience, simple but effective use of a few props and pieces of staging and the right costumes all brought an immediacy and connection to this production.

From the start this production established a strong sense of an uneasy Denmark and the contrast between drama and comedy was well-captured. The final fight scene was excellently done as was the often-cut last scene with Horatio and Fortinbras.

The scenes flowed fluidly from one to the next, beautifully tied together and enhanced by music (played on the guitar by director David Laurence’s alter ego, Walter Plinge), song (notably by Erin Banks) and simply created sound effects.

This troupe, like the travelling players in the script, turn up in a village (or should that be a hamlet), and, making a virtue of their theatricality, create their magic right in front of our faces.

So what’s the ‘but’?

Well, for me, Simon Vincent’s Hamlet disappointed. He shouted too much. I know he can get angry – but, despite what he said when alone to the audience, I didn’t get to learn much else about him. He was full of outward energy and action – but I didn’t get a sense of what was happening inside or why he was slow to act. And that lack of an internal picture is a bit of a problem for one of the first and greatest examples of a character’s personality being bigger than the play of which they are part.

Jean Copland’s Gertrude didn’t convince as mother, lover or wife – and the scene between Hamlet and his mother just didn’t work. Some characters at times dropped into the common but disconcerting Bacchanalian habit of breathlessly racing through difficult lines and patches – Laertes (Alex Greig), Claudius (Phil Peleton), and Hamlet himself were all guilty of that. I’d rather these sections were heavily cut than made into almost an unintelligible background on which the actors paint a sometimes unrelated mood.

However, unlike the other David Lawrence Shakespeare plays I have seen, this production was shorter by perhaps an hour than it would have been without cuts.  I would cut more and reinstate a few other parts.

In particular the second half could be trimmed of the much of the explanations about Rosencranz and Gildenstern’s end in England – and so too could the long interchange between Claudius and Laertes before the fight.

Hamlet’s advice to the actors was cut. A pity: some of tonight’s actors could have learned from the advice not to ‘split the ears of the groundlings’ or ‘in the very torrent of passion … to acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness.’

Having given my reservations I return to this production’s strengths. Erin Banks as a modern Ophelia was superb – and she has a lovely singing voice as well. Her mad scenes were very strong.

I loved Alex Greig and Salesi Le’ota’s double-act as Rosencranz as Gildenstern. Osric’s (Jack O’Donnell) short scene worked well.  Phil Grieve’s rhetoric as player king was wonderful – particularly in his earlier Hecuba speech.

And, without a doubt John Smythe excelled both as Polonius and the gravedigger – getting a lovely and lovable mix of humour and humanity into both parts.

I enjoyed the evening and can’t wait for the Bacchanals next offering.


Michael Wray December 9th, 2006

A year is not complete without a Bacchanalian Shakespeare. After spoiling us with two in 2005, it seemed that 2006 was going to go without.... better late than never! (David - Any chance of bringing Hitchcock Blonde to Wellington?) What an excellent production! I saw it at the Tarurua Tramping Club Friday night and thoroughly enjoyed it. My first experience of watching the Bacchanals was their production of Hamlet at Zeal a few years back, which I also loved, but this version hooked me so much more. I found Simon Vincent's Hamlet to be totally engaging and found no fault. I was puzzled to read the reviewer's criticisms and can only assume that this is the director in him looking at things he would have done differently? Fair enough, especially with a strong Shakespearian track record of his own, though purely as an audience member I didn't necessarily see things the same way. Certainly, I did not feel that Jean Copland's Gertude was unconvincing, though Gertrude's role did not feel as prominent in this production as perhaps it has been in others. I'm in complete agreement with regards to the strength of Erin Banks' Ophelia. I'm not sure, but I think this is the first time we've seen her sing? Is there anything she can't do (let's not forget the dancing in Golden Boys!)? Some of the things I enjoyed most were the little touches. My particular favourite was Alex Greig and Salesi Le'ota briefly flipping coins as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (as in Tom Stoppard) - it would have easy to miss though, so watch carefully! Finally, does anyone else think that the young performer playing Polonious and the Gravedigger might stand a chance of being nominated for "Most Promising Male Newcomer" at the next Chapman Tripp Awards ;-)

Don Tasker December 8th, 2006

I've never understood the 'slow to act' accusation about Hamlet - especially when the Fortinbras subplot is left in (as with this Bacchanals production). There are security issues in Denmark, Hamlet loves his mother and, even though he believes his father's ghost, he does feel the need to get proof - which he does via the play within the play. And the irony is that when he does take action he gets it wrong (kills Polonius) - and thus the classic lose-lose revenge tragedy scenario unravels. All this was very clear to me in this well-paced, unencumbered production (although of course there are, as always, things that could improve craft-wise).

B M Morton December 8th, 2006

I’m amazed. I saw Hamlet tonight in Island Bay and thought Simon Vincent was superb. He didn’t shout too much at all. Maybe it was different in Eastbourne – the IB Community Centre is certainly very small and intimate. Tonight Hamlet had a great vocal range. Sure he got excited, being in the anger stage of grief, then vengeful, then pretending to be mad, then getting into a mess when things go wrong and the wrong people die … He didn’t resort to shouting over much. He made great good sense of all the phases Hamlet goes through. And I really like that he was a very recognisable man responding to things in a very credible way – not an introspective poet-cum-intellectual overdoing the language stuff. I think it’s wrong to play Hamlet as if he was the poet who wrote all those lines. He is the man who has all those thoughts and feelings – the poet (Shakers) has put them into great words but what’s important is that the actor honours them in his whole being rather than just his speaking. And I think Simon Vincent does that wonderfully. The whole company needs to be congratulated for conjuring the play almost out of thin air, with nothing but themselves, the script and our imaginations to make it all real. And moving. I loved it.

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Terrific Shakespearean ensemble

Review by Lynn Freeman 06th Dec 2006

The Bacchanals are indeed like the travelling players who come to Elsinor (though far better actors it must be said), as they take this free production of Hamlet out and about Wellington. Don’t let the fact it’s free fool you into thinking its not of a professional standard – it most certainly is, indeed, it’s one of the most engaging productions seen in the Capital this year.

David Lawrence has such a great feeling for the Bard’s work, he keeps the setting basic (one curtain, two chairs) so the audience focus is entirely on the actors. They are terrific, a true Shakespearian ensemble, the comic roles are hilarious (John Smythe’s dual act as the officious Polonius and wisecracking gravedigger is to die for, and Phil Grieve’s Player King is a delight), and the tragedy is heartfelt and heartbreaking.

Simon Vincent is the latest brave young actor to dare perform Hamlet, not only a feat of memory but it’s almost impossible to nail it – indecision, madness, guilt, cruelty which goes far beyond being, as he says, cruel to be kind.

Vincent’s Hamlet is perhaps a little too tearfully emotional from our first encounter with him, he stays at that heightened pitch for most of the play rather than building to it.  But it is a powerful and moving performance, most notably his scenes with Ophelia.  The “get thee to a nunnery” scene is beautifully done. Even more exquisite is where Hamlet delivers his “To be or not to be” soliloquy not to the audience but looking deep into the eyes of the woman he loves.

Erin Banks is a revelation as Ophelia, playing her as a smart, strong, independent thinking woman who really would have been the perfect partner for Hamlet if, like Romeo and Juliet, their stars were not crossed.

So raise your goblets and toast The Bacchanals: Ginny Spackman, Salesi Le’ota, Jonny Potts, James Stewart, Phil Peleton, Jean Copland, Cornelius, John Smythe, Alex Greig, Erin Banks, Simon Vincent, Phil Grieve, Jack O’Donnell, ‘Walter Plinge’ and David Lawrence.

(For the full tour schedule, click on the production details above.)


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Common Kiwi touch

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 04th Dec 2006

The Bacchanals’ first assault on Hamlet a few years ago had the audience wandering all over Elsinore as it followed the action from room to room, upstairs and downstairs. Their latest version, which I caught up with at the Brooklyn Community Centre, is played without any theatrical embellishments or clever directorial gimmicks whatsoever; there’s Shakespeare’s script, some bare boards and the actors.

The play is taken at a fair clip, which means as usual that at times sense and poetry are lost, but the compensations are gratifying: the exciting story is told to us by the actors only centimeters away (Hamlet may well sit next to you), subtleties and ironies are possible (Laertes congratulates Hamlet after Claudius names him his heir), the soliloquies become part of the action not solos (‘To be or not to be” is spoken directly to Ophelia), and the comedy in the tragedy arises naturally (there’s even laughter, for the first time in my experience, in the final duel).

This is also very much a New Zealand Hamlet – a Hamlet reflecting our times. The production has a No 8 wire feel to it. While it is never clear what is rotten in this state of Denmark, it is crystal clear that the Royal House of Denmark is made up of ordinary contemporary people and precious little deference is paid to them because of their status.

Simon Vincent’s Hamlet lacks any air of royalty or privilege but he brings to the role a burning modernity and everydayness about the Prince that makes you feel you could meet him at the corner dairy, though you had best be wary, he could explode at any moment. Erin Banks captures beautifully Ophelia’s love for Hamlet and her incomprehension at his rejection of her, as well as her decline into madness, is underplayed and consequently heartbreaking.

Phil Peleton’s excellent Claudius, who is not your usual obvious villain, could easily pass for a suit in Lambton Quay and Jean Copland’s Gertrude, though she reacts with the mild irritation of a hostess worried about blood on the carpet after Polonius’s death, is a respectable middle-class matron.

John Smythe makes Polonius an eager-beaver, jovial bureaucrat of the old school who is also a behind-the-scene fixer, and he completes a fine double as the gravedigger whom he makes an old professional first, a comic character second.

Alex Greig and Salesi Le’ota as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern bring some Stoppardian humour to the proceedings: Rosencrantz tosses a coin at one point, while Guildenstern has clearly been indulging in illegal substances.

Playing four roles that are usually overlooked Phil Grieve stamps his mark on a puzzled Reynaldo, a priest, an English ambassador, and a bombastic Player King who can suddenly inject emotion into obscure speeches. The Players, however, perform the dumb-show as a travesty which rather undermines Hamlet’s assumption that they are a top-notch company.

This, then, is an uncomplicated, straightforward tour through contemporary Elsinore – and what’s more it is free, though donations are gratefully accepted.

For the suburban tour schedule, click on the Production Details above.


Paul McLaughlin December 4th, 2006

Congratulations to David Lawrence and The Bacchanals for creating this work and putting out there to the community. I can't wait to wander down to the Makara Hall and see it on the 13th!

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Madness or method?

Review by Ralph McAllister 04th Dec 2006

The Bacchanals are not frightened to challenge themselves.

Take a rundown village hall, perform one of the greatest plays in the English language, in a terrifyingly small space with no theatre lights, few sound effects and the most basic of costumes and props.

Have your actors greet the audience on arrival, get them to make cups of tea for all in the interval. Eyeball the audience from a few centimetres in some of the most intimate scenes in the play. Race through the play with speed that almost defies augury.

And three hours later, what have you got?  Quite a lot actually.

The reception from the Paekakariki audience was loud and sustained. Particularly pleasing to see the way some ten and eleven year olds were totally gripped with this unfussy, energetic and vital rendition.

So if you want to introduce your younger relations to Shakespeare take the hint and find the next free performance of this travelling troupe of players. You could do worse.

Having said all that it is incumbent on me to offer some analytical appraisal.

The first advice would be to suggest that the actors who cannot cope with excessive speed should take the speeches slowly so that tripping and incoherence are kept to a minimum.

Some of the major characters need to explore, in greater depth, the relationships that exist in this complex masterpiece. Gertrude and Claudius do little to suggest the passion that flings them together so hastily while Claudius has little conscience in his king.

Ophelia sings touchingly but the passion or the confusion that are central to her meeting with Hamlet are largely absent.

It is in the smaller roles that most of the excitement lies.

John Smythe as Polonius is an intelligent and political animal. His Polonius is assured and poised despite the seeming stupidity. His caring love for his family is as obvious as it is touching. And he is utterly at ease with the verse.

As is Phil Grieve, who offers us a Player King of fun and dignity. His rich voice and presence remind us once again of his value in the profession. The play within the play in his hands is as affecting as it is surprising. This is a deeply felt and touching performance.

Alex Greig does a virtuoso double act, first as a virile and passionate Laertes and then as an ineffectual Rosencrantz. Not quite as helpless as Salesi Le’ota’s Guildenstern, who wanders through scenes to hilarious effect as if he knows he is in a different world.

It would not take much to imagine both of these actors in Stoppard’s classic. They are ready for that challenge.

And Hamlet?

Well Simon Vincent would be the first to admit that this is the beginning of a long journey. He is full of energy and anguish. He asks, perhaps to early, for our sympathy but gets it. He is gloriously in charge of the verse and the passion of his delivery to both Ophelia and Gertrude in the great denunciation scenes are wonderfully realised.

Now he needs to study transitions, slow down, show us more of the despair which lies in and between the lines.

In the meantime, this will do very nicely.

There is some beautiful original music by Walter Plinge in David Lawrence’s production. Lawrence has helped disguise the inexperience of some of his cast. He understands the dynamic of the play and goes a long way towards offering lucky Wellingtonians a stimulating and absorbing evening in the theatre.


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Entertainment value off the charts

Review by Mary Anne Bourke 03rd Dec 2006

Call me a raver, but I do not expect to see a more enjoyable production of Hamlet as long as I live. Okay, Simon Vincent plays Hamlet, and it’s hard to think of a more perfect casting, but this Hamlet exceeds expectations. With a performance of extraordinary verve and intelligence, Vincent turns Hamlet inside out and shows us what he, both prince and player, can be.

This is a no-frills Hamlet. He’s on the level. He’s human. This is a Hamlet who looks you in the eye from three feet away as he tells you of his plight. This is a Hamlet played in full fluorescent light as the birds tweet at dusk outside your local community hall.

There’s no set; there’s no effort wasted on creating an illusion of the castle of Elsinore. Yet its doomed legacy is fully realised in the psychological realm through the articulation of this poetry. Costuming is rich and effective being of mixed styles; players make great sport with cloak and dagger.

Casting is, for the most part, extremely effective. Phil Peleton, extra-handsome with his black-and-white beard, makes a genuinely regal ghost of his dead brother, Hamlet’s father. This ghost is no ephemeral cliché but an energetic force, so Peleton’s doubling as Claudius is all the more chilling as the calmer, mortal schemer.

Erin Banks steals those few scenes given her as Ophelia. She is a grave, flesh-and-blood sweetheart, finding transcendence in a singing voice that breaks to speaking in her grief at losing Hamlet.

John Smythe enjoys a dual comic triumph here, playing Polonius as a bumbling parody of the political adviser, and doubling as the gravedigger whose gratuitous riddles stop the show for a round of pure silliness before the fatal sword must fall. (Lost on few readers of this site—still less on Smythe himself—would be the irony in his lengthy speech which concludes with "brevity is the soul of wit".)

Comic relief comes readily, too, when the entire company assembles as The Players who ape Claudius’ heinous act, at Hamlet’s behest, and at each appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, played camp and gormless respectively, by Salesi Le’ota and Alex Greig. Doubling as Laertes, Greig also makes a fine challenger to Hamlet’s honour.

I was bemused by what seemed to be a one-note performance by Jean Copland as Gertrude. Apart from being old enough to be Hamlet’s twin sister, this Gertrude doesn’t seem to give a rat’s arse about her son until the script has her showing some interest in the ‘plot’ in the second half. I found myself craving a hint of conflict in her, of maternal feeling, something that would make the mother/son relationship credible. The inevitable Freudian slant makes the play no less interesting; it just seems to me that a mother this callous would drive you nuts years before your uncle murdered your father to marry her. 

But I digress. What you need to know is that the entertainment value of this Hamlet is off the charts. Go and see for yourself.

For the suburban tour schedule, click on the play title above – then click on ‘Venue details’ 


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