Issue 461
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Whether you were born here or drawn here, Brum is a city that welcomes people from all walks of life, from all over the world. But I do wonder if maybe we should draw the line at vampires?
Too late, because Birmingham Botanical Gardens are going gangbusters on Halloween, this year, and the undead have been invited along for the party.

With a daytime family-friendly event running for a full week (no scares on this one, pure goodness only) and a rather more unnerving over-16s event running each evening over the same period, the visual brilliance for both comes courtesy of renowned show production company Gary Starr Creative who, as you can see by the images, don't do costume and make-up by halves.
"We pride ourselves on the visuals of what we do," says Gary. "But we provide the full package. We do the whole production: costume, make-up, writing, directing, lighting, scenery — the works." 

Gary's team are trusted by major venues across the country and they specialise in two key areas: panto and horror. From Gleneagles Hotel in the north to Hoxton Theatre in the south they've become the benchmark by which 'walkabout theatre' is judged.

"We've grown as a company since our holiday park beginnings in 2005," says Gary. "I first founded the company as a touring pantomime provider, bringing panto to venues all over the UK all year-round whilst also operating summer seasons in popular seaside resorts. From there it's grown and grown and now we're working all over, producing genuinely unforgettable experiences."
Here's how it works. From October 28 to November 5 families are invited to enjoy Botanical Beasts And Mythical Creatures, a kid-friendly mooch around the beautiful gardens throughout which skilled actors will interact with youngsters and grown-ups alike, in character as fairies or trolls, witches or wizards. Children will get the chance to have their photos taken with the cast while being wowed by close-up magic and other enchanting bells and whistles. For an extra £4 there's also a more traditional sit-down panto performance of Beauty And The Beast, as well, all performed by Gary's team — so plenty of bang for your buck. 
"But for those looking for something a little more chilling," adds Gary. "Well, we seem to have found ourselves a bit of a niche for horror, too."

Once the final families have filed out of the Gardens, Gary's crew of actors, set designers, make-up artists and wardrobe experts put on a rather different event. Again guests will walk around the beautiful Botanicals but this time they're less likely to receive such a warm welcome.

"I honestly can't tell you much about the plot — it's a secret — but suffice to say the event is designed to put the creeps up you. I'm a horror fan myself and I know how formulaic horror, the movies in particular, has become. You can almost set your watch by the cliches and although we will be borrowing characters, mythical legends and well-known folklores from the genre, we do all we can to avoid the obvious. If it scares me, it'll scare you — and that's the simple rule by which I work."
Gary has written a trilogy of Victorian Gothic live action horror shows which work as standalone pieces but also interlock and connect, with characters and creepies appearing across all three. For the Botanical Gardens he has written a bespoke play using the very same characters— a play that you walk through rather than sit through. Entitled Horrors of the Silver Screen your immersive journey will start as you meet a faux film director on a studio lot before travelling by foot into Gary's slightly unhinged mind via Vampiric folklore and Frankensteinean nods — the Promethean lady above likely to grace your path at some point. Lucky you.   

"You never know what's around the next corner and, in the dead of night with us at work, that can be quite a trip," says Gary.
"Yeah it'll be scary," he says with a final worrying chuckle. "But it is Halloween immersive theatre, so it's not doing it's job if it doesn't unnerve you.

"But that said, it won't be back-to-back jump scares with insane intensity throughout. This isn't The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It's not all noise and barbaric butchery. We've mastered the art of anticipation fear. There will be a jump or two — of course there will — but really this is the sort of horror that a sixteen-year-old and a sixty-year-old can get onboard with."     
Once you've experienced it (and it is an experience) you will be invited to watch a more traditional horror show, with a seat of your own to hide behind and a bar providing some well-deserved drinks...        
Tickets for Botanical Beasts And Mythical Creatures cost £6.50 for kids and £8.50 for adults – members get in free. Discounts are available for full family bookings and there's an optional £4 surcharge for the stage production of Beauty And The Beast. Standard tickets for Horrors Of The Silver Screen are £15. There will be food stalls and the bar will be open for drinks, at an additional cost.
Dancers pose with arms outstretched sideways


In a huge coup for Birmingham Hippodrome, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's second company, Ailey 2 – that's a mouthful – introduces its breathtaking spectacle to the stage for two nights only, on October 3 and 4. As the younger, more innovative and formidable spin-off of its Dance Theater, Ailey 2 brings the next generation of dancers to the fore, with inimitable spirit, style and creativity. Presented by Dance Consortium, the 12 venue tour lands on our soil, all devised by the company’s new artistic director, Francesca Harper.

With deftly woven limbs flying gracefully here, there and everywhere, the performances bring energy, grace, and a flair that makes it uniquely thrilling to witness. There’ll be four pieces of work performed, including the company’s signature piece, Revelations – Alvin Ailey’s 1960 beloved masterpiece. Seen by more than 23 million people across 71 countries, more than any other modern dance work, Revelations uses African American spirituals, song-sermons, gospel songs and holy blues to create explosive scenes exploring the depths of grief and highs of pure joy.

The young dancers pack athleticism, tenderness and ferocity into a choreography that spans genres. Accompanying Revelations, there’s urban percussion in the gladiatorial performance of Robert Battle’s 2001 work, The Hunt; and a rhythmic electronic score in William Forsythe’s Enemy in the Figure, from 1989. Finally, the ferocious Freedom Series by the company's own, Francesca Harper, tops off the tour de force.

Celebrating its golden anniversary this year, Ailey 2 embarks on its first UK tour since 2011, and we’ve been reliably informed by those in the know that this should not be missed – these lot are biiiiig in the dance world. Tickets from £16
A papercut design in pink, turquoise and red


The thought of opening my house for you lot to watch me work? Dreadful. The tidying alone would set me back a week. So, all respect to the artists throwing open their homes during Birmingham Open Studios. Across two-day sessions on September 23 and 24, then September 30 and October 1, the city’s creative talents will be on display in their natural habitats. A voyeur’s dream, you’re welcome to visit artists creating their wares as you watch them at their houses, studios or shared spaces. The boon is two-fold: a chance to see the people behind the pictures (or pottery, or paintings…) and also see the value of what they do. There’s nothing like seeing someone create amazing things before your eyes to really appreciate their skill— and the price tag.

Now in its seventh year, this fantastic concept will get us out and appreciating Brum artistry and buying direct from them, no seller and postage fees – result! With 62 participating venues and 169 artists, it’s the highest number yet and, as a democratic, open call to artists, you’ll see seasoned pros through to fledgling designers on display.
A bright pink glass 'bulb' shape with white lines
The handy guidebook (print and online) marks spots where groups and individuals are showcasing, covering all corners of the compass. From mesmerising glass creations (like Pauline Grace Glass, pictured above), to doodles, fine art and silversmithing – indulge in deep chat and demos of their methods and techniques. Feast your eyes on stunners, like Clare Pentlow’s intricate papercut designs (top picture) seen up close at the Quarterworkshop, or hand-threaded portraiture by Imogen Morris (below) in Kings Heath.

Some will be tidying the house, and even welcoming you in for refreshments; others will be in community halls, cafes and galleries. The full list of makers gives dates they’ll be displaying, so you can catch your favourites or nip down the road to meet someone new – it’s worth the schlep across town to discover new artists in their spaces. Grab a guidebook online or from venues dotted across the city (from Bearwood to Moseley, via the JQ) and plot your visual odyssey. Full list of artists
A hand threaded, intricate portrait of a face


In the case of the English dram, we’ve made our choice. We’re going with the Scottish spelling — no 'e'. English Whisky Festival it is! Warming your winter cockles, it's coming to Digbeth’s The Bond, to be rightfully lauded for a second year on one day only: Saturday November 18, noon to 5.30pm. Any later in the day and that stagger home might be awfully hard.

The roaring success of the first festival means this year’s roster features even more craft distilleries (30 brands so far). The festival welcomes returning exhibitors from 2022’s inaugural date, alongside new distilleries eager to spread their story... and spirit.

The immense tasting opportunities from some of England’s best (and priciest) distilleries make this well worth the ticket cost (£40, or £35 early bird). The festival pass comes with a free tasting glass to take away with you – catch some stellar cradling of the sippers – and crucially, all the samples are included in the entry fee, so go wild (responsibly).

Take a deep-dive into the drams, the companies and the processes behind it all in the masterclass rooms. From first releases with Yorkshire’s Cooper King, exploring the wide portfolio of companies like The English Whisky Company and Copper Rivet, to a session featuring the only Whisky using English peat from Somerset, it’s all hosted by the distilleries themselves to give you genuine insight.

Expect festival food, soda samples for the highballers, plenty of spitoons and, of course, some of England’s finest craft barrels – from the Lake District to London and beyond – all under one roof. Book


Little wonder Black Sabbath — The Ballet has sold out, given it marries two of our city's biggest exports, Birmingham Royal Ballet and The Sabbath, themselves. But what happens if we add a third major Brummie institution to proceedings? Because on October 25 BRB will be dancing (and playing) some of their highlights from the show — which lands at Hippodrome, later this month — to Hockley Social Club, meaning you can enjoy powerful snippets while sampling some of the best street food the city has to offer. Tickets (£20) go on sale Tuesday, September 19, here. Cameras out, this one might go down in Brum folklore. 
Venue: Sunday Lunch at Tattu, 18 Barwick St, B3 2NT; website 
Choice: Imperial Roast (£32pp) Chooser: Set menu 

Things that are dreadful about Sundays: Tim Lovejoy, the Sunday Scaries, almost all restaurant roast dinners.

And where the first two are likely to prove problematic for the rest of time, something can be done about gaunt spuds, dry meat and deflated yorkies. Simply lift the Sunday roast out of the UK and plonk it in China. More specifically, in Tattu, on Berwick Street.

Known as the "Imperial Sunday Roast" this new menu feature, which went live last weekend and is, obviously, only served on Sundays, made for not only my favourite ever visit to Tattu — and I've been a lot — but also the best value.

The luxy blossom-filled venue, deep in the heart of the Colmore Business District, has always placed a good deal of emphasis on appearance and the Sunday roast, so often a higgledy-piggledy mess when served elsewhere, is postcard perfect. Even the most ardent Instagram-sceptic will reach for their mobile like a reflex and the three meats (aromatic roast duck, Chinese barbecue chicken and the show-stealing char siu Iberico pork) arrive on what I assume is a giant banana leaf but I'm no foliage aficionado.

If the main event wets your whistle — and it will — then the 'extras' will send you screwy with food lust. A beautiful tray of soft and fluffy steamed buns, duck pancake wraps, fresh and vibrant pak choi, crispy shallots, pickles and Chinese roast potatoes arrives to collective and most warranted oohs and ahhs. Two sauces will also come-a-knockin: a plum number and an oily Szechaun affair that they should sell by the bottle full because it's condiment witchcraft. What a feast!

There are clear matches as to what will work with what. The crispy duck has wraps, cucumber and spring onion bedfellows and that chicken or pork will sit snug in those bao pockets with some pickle, but the real joy is found in the reckless abandon of mixing it up. Everything goes with everything and the whole process of building a bite that might be better than the last is part of the fun. And, honestly, it is a lot of fun.

The standout components, although for me there were no weak ones, were the char siu belly pork (umami from fermented bean curd, hoisin, and oyster sauce, a bit of zest from some sort of Chinese wine, I suspect, and an unmistakable honey hit) and those Chinese roast potatoes. No, I didn't think they would work either, but prepared with garlic, chilli and five-spice they are stickier than a Snobs dancefloor and beat 99% of restaurant roasted potatoes all ends up.

If you raise an eyebrow at the optional £8 surcharge for broccoli well, join the club, but I implore you to take the gamble. Dusted generously with truffle (hence the fee) they were earthy and rich and worth every single penny. And speaking of cashmoney, at £32 per person (sans broccoli) this might well be the affordable spread you've been waiting for to make your Tattu bow.


If you've not been to Attic Brew Co's new Jewellery Quarter digs, The Barrel Store well, firstly, deduct yourself four Birmingham points. You can make amends, mind, and now's the time to do it because they're currently offering 50% off their entire L'Arco pizza menu. That's right, it's not just a blimming beaut of a beer den, it's also slinging dough, and given full whack prices are extremely reasonable (from £6.50 up to £10.50), well with half the cost off you can bag a marinara for a frankly absurd £3.25. Once the offer ends (it runs every day until and including this Sunday, September 17) then they will still continue a 2-4-1 offer on their pizzas Wednesday and Sunday, going forward. So you're fresh out of excuses. Both offers also apply to L'Arco's panuozzo too, which is Italian pizza sandwich. So you can get one of them for £2.50 from now until Sunday. Frankly, bananas value. Get yourself some of the new fermented Pip's Hot Sauce while you're there — perfect for crust dippage. Menu


If talk of no Independent Birmingham Festival this year made your crests fall, well, spank me cross-eyed because not only is it HAPPENING but they've revealed the line-up and it might be the strongest one to date. Most notable on the list of 19 independents that will descend on Digbeth's The Bond, November 11 and 12, is Balti Triangle legends Shababs. Caps doffed to Independent Birmingham for that coup of a booking. Other giants of the F&B world who will be showcasing the finest the city has to offer include Pause, Meat Shack, Adam's (yep, the Michelin starred one), A La Mexicana (another sizeable coup), Smoke + Ash, Trentina, Milkcake Man, Loki — bloody hell this list is incredible — Passing Fancies, LA Pop, Yardbirds, Buddha Belly, Tiger Bites Pig, Eat Vietnam and Raja Monkey. I have it on good authority that Fox & Chance are bringing Irish Coffee too. On top of all that there's an artisan market with indie retailers, artists, designers and makers plus live music. Always sells out and so it should. Book


It was Benjamin Franklin who said "by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail" but, then again, he also said "preparation is the burden of fools" so I'm not sure what to believe!

If pushed, though, I'd say preparation can only be a good thing and it's with that in mind that you are hereby given forewarning that Keith Prowse, Official Hospitality Providers at Edgbaston Stadium, have gone live with their packages for the 2024 big name fixtures.

Edgbaston will host an array of internationals throughout the summer months, kicking things off with a Women’s IT20 in May, followed by the Men’s IT20. England will host Pakistan on May 11 for the women’s match, and after a record-breaking women’s Ashes at the stadium this summer, what better time to go "all in" on Women’s Cricket.

England’s Men’s side will then go on to play the formidable Pakistan on May 25 in another Vitality IT20. Pakistan are likely to be bringing with them big hitter Babar Azam, all rounder Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf — the first Pakistani to take a hat-trick in the T20 format and folk hero as a result. Brum will be alive with excitement.

The following month England will go on to play in a Men’s Test Match against the West Indies, July 26 to July 30 with the atmosphere set to be just as electric.

And finally, after hosting this year's epic Vitality Blast Finals Day, Edgbaston Stadium will again host for the 2024 edition with fingers tightly crossed that Birmingham Bears will be in the mixer, having just missed out this time around. Browse fixtures
Resorts World Birmingham's Art Series is back with a Drink & Draw event on September 28 followed by Watercolours & Wine, October 12. Both take place in the beautiful Secret Garden at Sky Bar & Restaurant. 

Kings Heath Street Festival returns this Sunday (Sept 17) from 12pm to 6pm with live music, artisan market, street food and more. Details   

The full programme for Birmingham Literary Festival has been announced. The event runs Oct 5 to 8. 

Madagascar the Musical shows at The Alex for four nights in March. Book

Bookings went live for Upstairs in Lichfield, yesterday, meaning there's still a fair bit availability for May to August, 2024. But it will all go, that's for sure. 

This weekend at the Big Green Saturday event at MAC, Skate Buddies roller-skating group will perform, drawing inspiration from their early skating days at the now-demolished Tower Ballroom. The group have also collaborated with local film producers to create a short film Rolling Out Brum which will be screened on the day. More 
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Claire Hawkins
PICS: Twenty Nine Studio (Whisky)

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