Issue 288
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"The smells and sounds are some of the things I remember the most." A powerful sensory observation coming from a photographer. "The aroma of freshly cut wood, burning metal from recently welded steel. The clanging, the hammering, the carving, the shaving."

In the autumn of last year Fraser McGee was given access all areas to the Birmingham Rep. Two months at our city's sole producing theatre — the only one to create its own shows, sets and costumes, from scratch — and 600 snaps have been whittled into a 100-photo exhibition. It turns out that behind-the-scenes at the Rep is as much about manufacturing as it is theatre.
"This shot was taken inside the paint room. They paint backdrops, stage sets, props, everything in there. Over 800 shows have passed through the room in 50 years. This chair was used over the course of weeks by Alex, a freelancer I got to know. Alex made the sign in the background for a show called The Messiah. I snapped this in the final minutes before the sign was taken onto stage. I’d seen so much life in that chair — Alex busying away hour after hour — and to walk in and find it empty for the first time, it resonated, you know? Like his job was done. A symbol of hard work. I loved those quiet moments — the calm before the final reveal, the deep breath before the the show is breathed into life."
"Backstage, everywhere you look there's random bits and bobs. Props, costumes, roman helmets. There were puppet puppies all over the place from 101 Dalmatians. On the left, here, is a munchkin from The Wizard of Oz. There was a whole row of them, sat eerie. Lifeless. This is just one of maybe 20 of them hung in a line. In contrast to the vast busy spaces of the workshop and the paint room, the costume and props department are an oasis of calm. People work on highly detailed garments and props, hand-crafting beautiful pieces over painstaking hours. Contrastingly, one of my favourite images is the shot of the welder in the workshop. Taken during the construction of the set for Oz, I love how alien it feels to the normal associations people make with the theatre. Sparks flying everywhere."
"This is Chris Tait, head of the paint department. I love this shot because it gives you a sense of the scale of the rooms. This isn't round the back of the Rep — this is inside the paint room. Top to bottom it's over 11 metres high. Aesthetically, behind-the-scenes isn't a beautiful space, it's a functional place, almost industrial. You find the beauty in the craftsmanship and history. This room, for example, is spattered with over 30 years of paint. That carries with it a certain beauty. I like how Chris is framed by the enormous extraction vent. I remember asking him how he copes with the smell in the paint room. "What smell?" he said. 
"I watched these guys rehearse a thirty second dance scene over and over. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Tweak this, change that. And then for a brief moment they took a break. And this chap here, who plays a bouncer at the doors of Oz, just pit-stopped. He stole a moment to himself to refuel. I love finding these moments, moments of a second or two, moments that will vanish as quickly as they arrive and, as a photographer, you've got to be ready for them. Little points of emotion that you need to frame in a split second, half with luck, half with patience."
"I wanted some shots that showed the end of the process. The culmination of all that work. This is a view that most would never get, on the stage looking out at the empty seating, with everything ready to go. What strikes me about this, is that I'm stood right at the halfway line. The line between public facing and behind-the scenes. There are such vast swathes of space behind where this photo is taken. It’s phenomenal really; I'd say more than 50% of the Rep is invisible to the public. Which is apt being as more than half of the work that goes into a production is never seen.
"This project was a process of discovery, not just for me — it taught me a huge amount about what I want to be as a photographer — but also for the Rep. Me, being there, pointing the mirror back at the people that work behind-the-scenes. It reminded them, I hope, that what is an everyday job to them, an ordinary nine-to-five, is utterly extraordinary to the rest of us."
Fraser's exhibition PRODUCTION is on at Medicine Bakery and Gallery, 69 New Street, B2 4DU. Until August 5, entry is free. Follow Fraser on Instagram.


Introverted waitress Amelie has thoughts and fantasies which are way beyond extroverted. That is, until her time spent helping others starts to fill her life with something from which she’s always shied away. You guessed it: lurve. And this all takes place on stage, amid spontaneously bursting into song. The 2001 film Amelie, directed by the très bien Jean-Pierre Jeunet, was a marvel to look at: surreal scenes all set in velvety red and greens. It was more or less an unofficial part of any freshers’ week, as well as being an upbeat and elevating experience to boot. To see Amelie transferred to The Alexandra stage has our interest well and truly piqued. And not to sound too uncultured, but we’re also relieved that unlike the subtitled film, it’s all performed in the Queen’s. July 22 to 27. Tickets from £23.90


Today is Independence Day. Which means today is the anniversary of the day President Bill Pullman led a global fightback against alien invaders. That's not relevant, sorry, ignore that. Today, however, is also Independents Day (see what they've done there?), the day we celebrate the independent businesses of Brum. The Retail BID are placing the spotlight on the 93 independents that fall into their city centre catchment by offering up £250 worth of vouchers to spend at five of them — £50 in each. The winner can pick themselves up a haul of wine from Loki, go gift shopping at Smithsonia and nab new threads from Projekt 21 (pictured), Disorder Boutique and Autograph. To be in with a chance of winning, simply head here to our Twitter competition, here. Winner picked at random at midday, July 11.
Venue: Poli, 21 York Road, Kings Heath B14 7SA; website
Choice: Black pepper cream pizza (£9.50) Chooser: Sophie, Owner

Ever heard of something called the
F45 Eight-Week Challenge? We have, because we did it, and after 56 days of (actually rather satisfying) HIIT classes and lean muscle making meal plans, we were hard as nails aaaaand utterly desperate to eat cake at caneat, followed by pizza at Poli. We've talked a lot about the former but the Kings Heath newbie — from the people behind Grace + James — opened mid-challenge, so salivation levels were frankly ludicrous. The fresh, bright, buzzy joint feels lovely, and, as evidenced by the reservation list, is exactly what York Road ordered. We had a bit of a false start with the pickled grapes (£3), which had been hyped to the max but didn't do anything for us. A double win followed. Though pizza is the main event, Poli is big on thoughtful small plates, like meatballs (£7, good), roasted bone marrow (£7, great) and woodfired cauliflower with texture-filled red pesto and hazelnuts (£6, utterly stupendous). The second must order dish is the team's bianca pizza — so a tomato-less creation — here topped with scamorza, mozzarella, pecorino and oodles of cracked black pepper. We're n'duja people — spicy salami a smiley editor makes — but by God the creamy creation Poli has come up with had us reassessing a lifetime of pizza orders. Dunk in squid ink aioli (£2) and a tiny drop of the fiery fermented hot sauce (£2) for the perfect bite. Challenge complete. Menu


Did you enjoy Wolverine swapping his claws for jazz hands in The Greatest Showman? Are you a sucker for the view at Level 25 of The Cube? Then we've sort of gone and found the event for you. Inspired by the all-singing, all-dancing film, your musical three-course circus soirée will be interspersed with plenty of music as well as contortionists, illusionists, and mixologists. Bearded women are, as yet, unconfirmed. On August 16 only, tickets are £149 which includes arrival drinks, all your food — including surf and turf for the main event and Champagne candy floss as just one of your carnival-style snacks. Dinns is cocktail-matched, and there are rumours of a snake charmer. And if the harmonies do get too much, the outside offers you some of the best, sorry, greatest vistas in B-Town.


It's been 50 whole years since Apollo 11's rather successful sojourn to the moon and back. Starting on the day that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and that other guy launched, and concluding on the day they rolled into the Pacific, Moon Fest is a programme of theatrical happenings, with Rocket Fuel our pick of the lunar pops. The eight-course edible adventure is inspired by the crew's inflight menu as well as the biggest moments of the mission. And we're hearing all the right things about the moon cake — a dark chocolate, aerated mound, served with black cherry jam, charcoal buttercream and a flag! On top of the food and drinky bits, expect surround sound, projection and live cameras taking you all the way through to the crew's time in quarantine. On July 19 and 20 at MAC, tickets are £22.50.
Beetlejuice or The Blair Witch Project are your options for Dudley Zoo and Flatpack's late night, open-air scares this year. On Aug 2 and 3, tickets are £12 each or £20 for both films.
Artist Pete McKee's work is cooler than a cryogenically frozen cucumber. Until July 7, check out his smile-making brand of art at the Custard Factory. More
Help yourself to 50% off spa treatments courtesy of MetroSpa and our little sister e-mag Letterbox. Here's the how.
Alex Claridge of The Wilderness is up to something supper clubby with the former head chef at Man Behind The Curtain. So probably just give him your money and go.
If you've never been, CoCoMAD — Cotteridge Park's very own little festival of music, dance, science, street food and good times — is a very special breed of lovely. From 12pm on Saturday, as family friendly as it is appealing to grown-ups.

"I think we're going to the moon because it's in the nature of the human being to face challenges. It's by the nature of his deep inner soul. we're required to do these things just as
salmon swim upstream."

Neil Armstrong

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WORDS: Tom Cullen, Katy Drohan, Robb Sheppard
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