Issue 232
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It's May, the sun's blazing and Birmingham Royal Ballet have just celebrated Christmas — presents, snow, carols, the works. And before you start to question the globally renowned company's basic grasp of the Gregorian calendar, they've been shooting promo pics for their winter production of The Nutcracker, along with the rest of their 2018/19 season. For the first time, the company is ditching green screens in favour of taking its dancers on location — with three shoots in five days no less. Here's the view from behind the scenes.
Design Exec Lee Armstrong's been at Birmingham Royal Ballet for more than fifteen years but The Nutcracker shoot was his first experience of organising outdoor photography. Taking place at Malvern's Madresfield Court (the oldest house outside the royal family never to be sold, fact fans), Lee had to be creative when it came to props that wouldn't leave a trace. "We tested four types of snow — it had to be biodegradable. In the end, there was an undulating snow blanket for the floor, plain flour in the trees (and dusting the presents — which yes, we wrapped ourselves) and a snow cannon, which created the flakes you can see in photographer Bella Kotak's hair. And if it had rained, the whole thing would have looked like messy cotton wool — it was such a gamble". On the day itself the temperature actually got down to 5°C which is why, if you look carefully, you'll spot dancer Karla Doorbar in her leggings. "Karla was essentially wearing a nightie for most of the shoot — we had three hot water bottles and bundles of coats, on standby."
Over the same weekend, the shoot took care of the company's brilliantly dark production of Beauty and the Beast. The key images were captured in the library of Madresfield, echoing the opening scene of the production where Belle sits reading a book. The picture above shows Brandon Lawrence as the Beast, taking a well-deserved break between takes. "The Beast's full costume involves a lycra base, haunches, a frock coat and a rug like cloak over all of that — 12.6kg of costume. Oh and that mask." Made by Robert Allsop who's worked on huge scale projects like Gladiator, X-Men and Doctor Who, Lee explained that the mask is both "notoriously hard to breathe in and very hot", which sounds less than ideal when you're taking on the lead role in a fast-paced ballet, 96 minutes in length.  
The shoot for Hobson's Choice, a comedy set in 1880, found itself smack bang in the city centre, in an arcade built in almost the exact same year — a very deliberate choice. "We are three things, and we are equally those things: Birmingham, Royal, Ballet. And each of those things has meaning — the Birmingham part is as important as the ballet part. Shooting in the public thoroughfare which is the Great Western Arcade was brilliant for so much more than its inherent drama. Brummies were fascinated." And given customers and commuters were wandering into a Victorian arcade with dancer Beatrice Parma in period dress, leg literally behind her head, with an army of photographers, lighting assistants, a choreographer and a makeshift dressing room in the unit next to Jaeger, the reaction makes sense.
The finished snaps of Brum will be seen in promo material across the length and breadth of the country and on computer screens and in magazines around the world. And while Birmingham Royal Ballet has shifted its focus to the logistically fraught world of on-location photoshoots, the attention to detail for which they are famed will be found as much in the post-production Photoshop wizardry, as it is in their painstakingly precise costume and make-up departments. Those customers milling around in every shot will, of course, vanish, while the arcade's modern signage will be intricately replaced by Victorian calligraphy. Hell, even the wine bottle in the brown paper bag (pictured, top) will need some modern-day magic. "Apparently," says Lee with a chuckle, "screwtops weren't a thing in the 1880s."  
See Birmingham Royal Ballet in real life from £20. Tickets.


If Brum had a royal cocktail family, Rob Wood would be in its upper echelons. And he's about to gain a new ward. In addition to book only, ten-seater cocktail haven Smultronstalle (in City Arcade), Wood's got a bigger, rowdier, new bambino: Above Presents... will shortly open above Tilt. The far bigger mixing den's first incarnation will be called Sugarcane, an ode to rum, serving up drinks like Banker's Punch (pictured), which'll taste a lot like aged rum, port, lime and raspberry, what with that being its ingredients. And if that sounds like your cuppa Joe, you won't want to hang around too long to try out the Sugarcane concept — Above Presents... will completely change its identity roughly every quarter, there'll be a clock which counts down to the end of each concept from the moment it opens. Twit-stalk. Insta-stalk


Clive Owen always seems knackered on-screen, so he’s the perfect choice to play a world-weary, boozy detective in this sci-fi brain-teaser from Truman Show writer Andrew Niccol. We’re in the indeterminate future and everybody’s consciousness is automatically uploaded to the ether, which makes Owen’s job pretty easy – at least until he encounters Amanda Seyfried’s mysterious hacker, the one person without this digital footprint. What’s more, somebody is going round hacking into other people’s minds and coming up with inventive ways of offing them. If you’re thinking this sounds a bit like the love child of Minority Report and Strange Days, you’d be right, but if you’re a sucker for a spot of sci-fi neo-noir and haven’t got the 17 days it takes to get through Blade Runner 2049, this is the film for you. Times


The Rotunda is 53 years old, but it had a rather required face-lift ten years ago and it's that anniversary being celebrated by the serviced apartment team that tend the top five floors: Staying Cool. To mark a decade of watching over us, they're putting on a series of eventsy, screeningy, foody and arty hullabaloos that could see YOU penthouse-bound. Our highlight — although it's a close call — is a collab with The Electric Cinema in which a select few will get to watch Tom Hiddleston's 2015 dystopian drama High Rise, 81 metres up. If extraordinary food is more your thang then The Wilderness's chef patron Alex Claridge will be dancing the tango on the tongues of ten competition winners, with his wicked-good creations, while a weirdly wonderful Columbo-themed night ties the tower's original date of birth to proceedings. There's plenty more going on and for all the latest info, or to register interest, head here.   
Venue: Ynyshir, Eglwys Fach Machynlleth, SY20 ETA; Website
Choice: More than two-thirds of the menu, which is at least 20 courses (£110)

"What do they know about cooking that all the other restaurants don't know?", "This is my Disney World", "To improve the quality of all food, every chef ever should just eat here" are a few of the things we said whilst beaming and luxuriating and tearing up at Ynyshir, which, long story short, is serving the best food we've ever eaten. The flavour and meat-obsessed restaurant with rooms is on the edge of Snowdonia in mid-Wales, and Birmingham is fortuitously its closest major city. While that still makes it a fair old drive or train ride (to Machynlleth), for chef patron
Gareth Ward's wagyu beef alone, it's a journey, nay, a pilgrimage, you need to make. We could write this entire piece on any of the 23 (not a typo) bite-sized courses we were lucky enough to try, such is the other-level quality of what Ward and his young army are achieving but the lamb rib (pictured), the pollock, the pork belly and the Welsh wagyu were particularly world-changing, with an unparalleled intensity of flavour and the proper treatment of fat uniting them in glory. The single draw-back? The supreme quality of what Ward is doing will ruin all other restaurants for you. If Ynyshir doesn't get a second star this year, Michelin is dead to us. Menu

B'ham independent Holy Moly Macaroni opens in Grand Central in June. We've been taste testing and the early dollah is on the prawn and chorizo mac'n'cheese. Insta

Peel & Stone at The Church opens Saturday after a bit of a face-lift. The first pizzeria from the beloved bakers has got us on the excited side of excited.
The Shirley Beer and Cider Festival is on Friday and Saturday. It's a festival about beer and cider which takes place in Shirley.
Bin-lid smashing Stomp is back at the Hippodrome. Tap them toes from May 29. Tickets
Richard Turner (yes, as in Turners of Harborne Richard Turner) has taken up pans at Maribel Restaurant on Brindleyplace, where that Edmunds used to be.
Damascena's Harborne mezze dream maker opens today (May 10) at 8am.
The excellent Ross Jukes spent a year documenting Southside. Be in with a chance of winning four framed images from the resulting collection In 'Side, by subscribing to our big-thinking little sister of a title Bell & Smokey by midday on May 21. 

"They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed." 

High-Rise (J.G. Ballard)

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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Tom CullenAndrew Lowry
PICTURES: Bella Kotak — BRB, Hobson's Choice (top), Drew Tommons — BRB, Hobson's Choice (bottom) 

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