(Issue 164)
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Headless rats are flirting. Life-size Jammy Dodgers are lined up against a temporary wall. And we're being asked to move a camera lens from the top of an electric car — The Krankies are about to joyride it on to stage. Dick Whittington opened panto season at Birmingham Hippodrome this week and we got above, under and behind the scenes with the cast and crew in the build up to their third ever performance.
Sixty minutes until curtain up
We're two precarious flights above the stage inspecting the flying system. Consisting of 81 bars, each bar is capable of 'flying' up to 150kg of scenery in and out of the stage. It takes 2000 working hours to unload, rig and assemble the individual components which make up this colossus of a production. And with 20 backdrops and more than 30 pyrotechnic cues across its two acts, the backstage crew is utterly critical to every part of everything you see in front of the curtain.
Thirty-five minutes until curtain up
All is calm across the labyrinth of dressing rooms, rigs and endless amorphous corridors. Except if you're Lucy Westnidge. She's the company manager. And it's her job to ensure the cast of 21 principals and two teams of young ensemble (known as Panto Babes) are in the right place, at the right time, made-up and wardrobed. As the 30 minute call goes out (always 35 minutes before curtain up — being late as an actor isn't really an option), she's passing notes from the director to Andrew Ryan (pictured), known as Dame Sarah The Cook for his next 69 performances. He's got 11 costume changes, and they generally involve both new wig and bust.
Three minutes until curtain up
Activity increases in the wings and around Prompt's Corner, stage left. Historically known for saving the blushes of mind-blanking actors, the role of the prompt has now transformed into something akin to a logistical nerve centre. With a direct line to (and eyes on) the orchestra's pit, Amanda Hillhouse coordinates the 30-strong backstage crew and whole team through scene changes, lighting cues and pyrotechnic happenings all in accordance with her annotated binder.
Thirty seconds until curtain up
Lights are dimming, actors are prostrating and a swarm of rodents suddenly surround us before heading on stage. The rats (also known as the students of Birmingham Stage School) are dancing and laughing and gossiping with but a curtain between them and the illusion that is panto. A chord strikes out and the swarm become the expertly trained army of performers that their intensely muscular physiques already attest to. And we're off.
Ten minutes after curtain up
On stage it's frenetic. A big number cedes to a solo performance and, back stage, chairs are pulled up while fairies and kings compare notes on Christmas shopping. Dizzied and dancing out of people's way, we avoid glittery bloomers, giant animatronic creations we won't spoil by expanding on, and a Babe dressed as a cupcake, before obstructing Dame Sarah as she thunders into the wings for her 30 second costume change. "Don't mind me, daahling," she pauses, before galloping on. We like it backstage. Okay, we love it.

Dick Whittington continues until January 29. Tickets. More pics


There's still time to get your Christmas flick fix, on the silver screen. In Rotten Tomatoes rated order:

1 It's a Wonderful Life at the Light House and the Electric (94%)
The Nightmare Before Christmas at Resorts World and mac Birmingham (94%)
Die Hard at the Electric and mac Birmingham (92%)
Elf at the Electric (84%)
Home Alone at the Electric (55%)


There's something better than Carlingford Rock Oysters. And that's Carlingford Rock Oysters at Opus for half the regular price. In an utterly heavenly turn of events, executive chef Ben Ternent and his team are launching lunch on Saturdays at Opus from January 7. And to show you that 2017 is going to be eminently better than 2016, the team is giving I Choose Birmingham subscribers (yes, you!) a whop-bam-boozling 50% off the menu on Saturdays throughout Jan. That's 50% off the prawn and lobster cocktail (pictured), 50% off the herb rubbed rump steak, and 50% off the new year's resolution friendly chargrilled chicken salad. In case 12 O'clock still feels like brunch O'clock to you, there's also a reassuring number of dishes involving eggs on the new menu. And as it's January, you can get into Opus' 50% off wine offer. Including a range of grape varieties and price points, it's a huge opportunity to try the wine you really want when you look at that list. Booking is essential. To qualify, enter "I Choose Lunch" in the comments box online, or mention us if calling. T&C
Venue: Brown Lion, 18 Hall Street, Hockley, B18 6BS; website
Choice: Twisted New Yorker (£7.50) Chooser: The owner

We don't want to get into a semantic argument about what constitutes a burger, but if we did, we'd contend that a patty of some kind were absolutely critical in the composition of the dish. Naughty, naughty Brown Lion, for calling their Twisted New Yorker a "burger" before cramming it with pastrami, Monterey Jack, mustard mayo, slaw and a fried egg, but no patty. They were immediately forgiven, mind, because the sandwich was good. Better than good. So enamoured were we with the third mouthful that we started re-enacting the shimmy-shimmy-cocoa-pop dance from Big in the direction of our baffled guest. Hit hard by the German Market the pub was underservingly quiet, so pop in and enjoy the space, while supporting an independent outfit who have completely transformed an historically atrocious boozer. Oh and if there's any jerk chicken on the menu, get it ordered. The chef prides himself on his rub, (the bird is cooked traditionally in a drum) and despite a Caribbean restaurant opening right next door they are sticking with it. And stick with it they should because it's smoky-nice. Menu

  • The Fresh Prince of Wales is such a good title for "a do" that we're including this Moseley freebie with no further details
  • Let multiple comedians take care of the chat at the Glee Club. DJ and dance floor to follow. From £20
  • Symphony Hall's hosting a New Year's Eve Gala. From £24.50, floor length attire and sparklies strike us as entirely obligatory
  • Island Bar and The Victoria are engaging in their usual, spectacular Dec 31 hook-up. Tickets are £12 before Chrimbo, getting you access to both venues, with a drink on arrival
  • Andy Waters is the only restaurant in the region in Opentable’s top 100 for 2016. Eat there, then join Sky Bar's masquerade party
  • Gas Street Social's got igloos. Take a looky while you join the team for their apres ski NYE shindig. From £15, zero skiing to precede
"'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation." - Theo, Die Hard
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PICS: Tom Bird (panto)
S: Katy DrohanTom Cullen

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