Issue 212
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The Hundred and One Dalmatians opened last week, at The Rep. At rehearsals taking place a fortnight before curtain-up, we spoke to Jimmy Grimes — War Horse alumni and puppet director for the new production. Plus a dachshund, a pug, a chihuahua and an adult-size dalmatian or three. Welcome to the fascinating, obsessive, personality-filled world of puppetry — it's all a little bit spellbinding. 
Stealing into the rehearsal room, three fully-fledged adults are debating the name of an inanimate lump of Plastazote: Floyd has just been christened. He's a sausage dog, and he's also a puppet, and we're the only people in the room that think that's a little strange. "He can't be too bendy at the spine — real sausage dogs can't do that" Jimmy says. "If you slightly tilt the rod you'll get more movement out of him". Actor Lewis Griffin obeys, and Floyd the tail-chaser springs into life right in front of us. Our minds are blown, we want to pet the damn thing, and that was before Floyd received ears, eyes or fur like he had by the technical rehearsal (pictured above).
The task of creating the 101 eponymous pooches, controlled by just 14 actors, has required a huge amount of creativity. There are 15 hand-controlled, individual, mechanical puppies — true to size (pictured bottom), with the remaining 85 being made up of clever backdrops, collections of tails, and "dogs on sticks" as the cast have been calling them.  A number of "ensemble dogs" have also qualified for this honour, including Floyd, and Jimmy's favourite, the pug (pictured above). "In picking out the breeds to use for the wider dog community, it was a case of matching breed to owner — maybe they look like the actor who'll be controlling them, or maybe they act like them." Lewis is frenetically showing off Floyd at this point. He doesn't stop moving his puppety-pup until we ask him if he'll be keeping his new best friend at the end of the process. Dog and owner both dip their heads in unison. "I won't be allowed," Lewis says. We don't know which one to console first. 
Though hugely complimentary on the topic of his experience as puppet director for War Horse, Jimmy is clearly loving presenting a completely new production, and doing so at The Rep. "In an auditorium this big, and with so many different puppets, it's crucial audience members can see bags of personality within individual dogs, and that's what I've tried to achieve, bringing out features which add loads of value (like the sausagey shape for Floyd), without making puppets so complicated the actors feel inhibited. Most of the cast haven't previously worked with puppets and it's part of my job to teach them how." Jimmy brings a heap on the floor to life as he talks "I did lots of research into how dogs move, but it's things like posture that make the biggest difference on stage — like a proud chest offers a strong and confident dalmatian, while when bowing down he starts to look quite submissive."  We're dazzled.
On puppetry today, Jimmy gives the huge live production of The Lion King a lot of credit for its popular resurgence. "In terms of mainstream appeal and venues being behind it, the production completely changed the picture. Then War Horse got audiences thinking puppetry may well be for adults as well as children." Looking to the future, Grimes sees a continued place for puppets: "That you can see what's happening without fancy animatronics, and at the same time get lost in the story of it, that's the brilliance of puppetry for me — and however much technology advances, that's not going away."

Get your mind blown. The Hundred And One Dalmatians Dalmatians is on until January 13. Tickets from £15.


We've been conducting a lengthy campaign to get that 11 out of 10 Zindiya to do takeaway. And hark, earlier this week, the team joined Deliveroo, for which you can thank us in cash — unmarked bills please. The menu is huge and includes lamb chops (£8), onion bhajis (£3.50), and chilli paneer (£5), placed into your hands. Orders open from 11.30 of the a.m. And if you can't immediately move house to get in Zindiya's catchment area (Moseley and Kings Heath), your curry-based consolation prizes are as follows: Hen and Chickens for the city centre and JQ, Pushkar for Edgbastonians, and if you live anywhere near Ladypool Road, you don't need us to be telling you a thing about curry. 


What's the children's story that still gets you deep down in your snozzcumber? Fifteen artist have been commissioned to produce a piece inspired by their childhood definer, including Laura Tinald's Indian ink and pencil work, capturing her memories of Sophie's big-hearted bravery in The BFG. See all the original pieces at The Zellig (the Custard Factory's nextdoor neighbour) this Friday, when a week-long auction will begin, with the cashdollah going Acorn Hospice's way. The Middle Feast is on food, there'll be comp'ed drinkage, and the VR Hub is bringing an app that lets you paint 3D spaces in virtual reality. A one-night only kinda dealio, entry is free, and the exhibition opens at 6.30pm. More


James Franco is a patchy director at best, but here he’s found a story that ideally combines his gifts as an actor with his taste for the goofy and off-kilter. He’s in the lead as Tommy Wiseau, an enigmatic real-life filmmaker who looks like an evil Christopher Walken and talks like a friendly Dracula. Bear in mind that in 2003 Franco made The Room, a film so poorly crafted it loops round and becomes a strange work of outsider art that’s at once hilarious and a look into a troubled soul. Here, though, the feel of his friendship with actor and co-producer Greg Sestero is familiar to the filmic bromances Franco has had with Judd Apatow, but the exploration of just what makes Tommy tick, and his determination to be a star no matter what, is oddly sweet. Most importantly, Franco nails Wiseau’s odd demeanour: odd that he’s given maybe his best performance playing someone who can’t act whatsoever. Times & trailer
Venue: Sabai Sabai, Waterloo Street, B2 5PG; Website
Choice: Beef Short Rib (£13.95) Chooser: The Owner

It's finally happened. Completely brilliant Thai food has arrived less than three minutes from our office. Originally the exclusive plaything of Moseleyites, this is
Sabai Sabai's fourth opening, and it's entirely beautiful — with a seriously strong game in light fittings. And the meal we ate on opening night, while boxes were literally still being unpacked, beat all our previous experiences. To maximise your starter game, try the meat platter (£12.95) which includes spare ribs, chicken wings and duck rolls. Plus as a side-starter (that's a thing right?), you'll need the black tiger prawns (£8.95) — char-grilled and then wok-fried in a crazy good, creamy Tom Yam sauce. Moving to mains, the zingy steamed seabass (£16.95) got plenty of happy knowing nods, but it was the braised short rib of beef in a Massaman sauce that was the table's outstanding performer: think falley-off-the-boney meat, a coconut-based sauce full of flavour, and plenty of it. Left alone, we'd have ordered four curries and a pad thai, and oh the things we'd have missed. Eat here. Adopt the "You Choose" philosophy. Take us. Menu
Chef Norman Musa's back in Brum for three nights of popping and upping. Tickets are £30 for four courses at Urban, from December 14 to 16.
Did the bit about plastic on Blue Planet II make you blart your eyes out too? The Clean Kilo are launching a zero waste supermarket in Brum — check it out
Preview bookings are being taken for The Wilderness' new casa. And if you can't wait until April, Bar Humbug's what's happening right now.
Extensive polling tells us that you lot L-O-V-E coriander. A Brum-based cook has launched a book of ancient Thai recipes which focus on coriander root. And you can get it.
It's a Wonderful Life. Inside Birmingham Cathedral. Life-affirming stuff you can find yourself a ticket for right here

"Don't gobblefunk around with words." 

Roald Dahl, The BFG

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WORDS: Tom Cullen, Katy Drohan, Andrew Lowry
PICTURES: Graeme Braidwood — 101 Dalmatians performance imagery;
Katy "Shutter Bug" Drohan — rehearsal imagery

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