Issue 455 
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The first public screening of projected motion pictures ever, by the Lumière brothers in 1895 – a date referred to as the symbolic “birthday” of cinema — took place in the basement of a Parisian coffee-house called the Grand Café. In fact one of the first moving pictures by the brothers, shot in their family garden in the spring of the same year shows Auguste Lumière having a meal with his wife and infant daughter. Food and drink was deeply interwoven into the fabric of film long before popcorn became synonymous with movies in the mid-20th Century.

Bringing this relationship right up to date is the Stirchley Film & Food Fest, from Stirchley Open Cinema in conjunction with Yuup, August 19 to 31. Marrying movies with meals, and doing it in some of Stirchley's most beloved venues, with some of the suburb's best restaurants, you're invited to dine on a global array of food genres while taking in a one of five silverscreen crackers somewhere you may not have been before.
Date: Saturday, August 19 
Movie: The Menu
Venue: Stirchley Baths with food by Verbena 

Ingredient-led, modern British dining specialists, Verbena, will make the short journey down the Pershore Road for a one-nighter in Stirchley Baths (pictured) where talk-of-the-year movie The Menu will be screened. Focussing on a young couple (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) who travel to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises — it's about as dark and satiric as they come. And for anyone who invests a lot in dining at some of the "finer" venues, it hits a little too close to home.

Verbena are pulling out all the stops on dinner, too. The exact menu for The Menu is hush-hush (the surprise being half the fun) but what we can say is you'll be served a snack box of sorts — like you may have been given as a kid at the cinema — only the separate sections have been Verbena-ed. Elevated moments of food that reference the film fantastically. It'll leave you wanting s'more. Okay, we've said too much! Book (£20)
Date: Sunday, August 20 
Movie: The Big Lebowki
Venue: Yardbirds 

Lightening the mood the following night will be Yardbirds' screening of The Big Lebowski. The menu from the fried chicken doyens is a work of art with glorious nods to the 1998 Coen Brothers crime comedy. The Dude Abides is a buttermilk fried chicken thigh, streaky bacon, dirty cheese sauce, pickles, iceberg lettuce and house mayo in a brioche bun, while other chicken burgers come named as Nobody Clucks With the Jesus and their Buffalo-ey option This Aggression Will Not Stand, Man. You can swap out chicken for vegan chicken or fried halloumi and there's a chicken strips option too. 

The real menu masterpiece, though, lies in the bespoke White Russian options. The main character's favourite drink, as most will remember, Yardbirds will have three different takes on the creamy classic including the Biscoff twist above and even a Slushie-style spin. The fee of £30 gets you a main with fries and a White Russian. Book
Date: Thursday, August 24 
Movie: Polite Society
Venue: Anjuna Lounge 

Anjuna Lounge will take centre stage on August 24 with a screening of action comedy-drama Polite Society. If this one snuck past you then now's your chance to rectify. Billed as Britain's answer to Everything Everywhere All at Once (and with a healthy dollop of martial arts to prove it), the film follows Ria Khan who believes she must save her older sister Lena from her impending marriage. After enlisting the help of her friends, Ria attempts to pull off the most ambitious of all wedding heists in the name of independence and sisterhood.

A whopping 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes should be all the nudge you need but a dealbreaker might be found in the food. For £25 Anjuna are serving up an alcoholic drink (a pint of pilsner or IPA, a glass of Prosecco, a glass of white wine, or a glass of red) a soft drink, plus a choice of vegetable kebab in naan or samosa chaat. There will also be a pakora or samosa as snacks included. Book (£25)
Date: Friday, August 25 
Movie: Kung Fu Panda 3
Venue: Stirchley Baths with food by Blow Water

It's a vegan spring onion pancake with pork (or vegan) dumplings and jeepers are they moreish. On day four of the festival Stirchley is drafting in the ringer to end all ringers, as Hong Kong Cafe Blow Water will up sticks from Kings Heath and make the short shuffle to Stirchley Baths for a late Summer hols, family-friendly must.

Those beaut dishes will accompany Kung Fu Panda 3 — a classic of the canon, I'm sure you'll agree — and one of the most star-studded animated (or otherwise) movies ever made: Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, Lucy Liu, Bryan Cranston, JK Simmons, Kate Hudson, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan and the guy who played Newman on Seinfeld, to name just a few! Frankly if you have kids and aren't at this you should be deducted ten parent points. Book (£16 adults, £10 kids)
Date: Thursday, August 31 
Movie: Back to the Future
Venue: Birmingham Brew Co with food by Iona Rose Cakes

What. A. Finale. Turn back the clock to 1985 and head to Birmingham Brewing Co at 88 miles per hour (actually don't do that at all — twenty is plenty, or better still, leave the car at home) as Back to the Future gets a screening. Possibly the perfect movie popped neatly into one of our city's best breweries. Pure bliss.  

This one comes with sweet snacks from Iona Rose Cakes (whose Instagram page alone is worth your time) plus samosas and an exclusive can of Stirchley Open Cinema beer. Book (£12)

Full Schedule


Programming pioneers and game changers take centre stage at a new and, at times, retro-powered exhibition called Makers and Machines: creativity in the computer age, at Thinktank.

Opening this weekend (Saturday, July 22), the interactive corner of the museum features a range of old skool (and older than old skool) digital and analogue devices, offering visitors a chance to play 1980s computer games, learn how to code on punched cards, and design their own weaving pattern. Weaving, I learnt, was a pre-cursor to binary and therefore feeds into the development of computers! Who knew?

Makers and Machines highlights some incredibly creative people from the West Midlands, past and present, among them Dame Stephanie Shirley, who grew up here after arriving in the UK in 1939 as an unaccompanied five-year-old refugee on the Kindertransport. A talented mathematician, Dame Stephanie set up her own software company, Freelance Programmers, in 1961. It was innovative in many ways, not least the idea of selling coding skills at a time when software was given away for free with computers. She also recruited only professionally qualified women who had to leave traditional employment as a result of caregiving responsibilities, offering flexible home working and job share contracts long before such working practices became commonplace.

A highlight of the exhibition is the HEC computer, one of the oldest surviving electronic computers in the world. It was built in 1951 to a design created by Andrew and Kathleen Booth. The HEC is a star of Birmingham’s internationally-significant collection of early British computers, and is returning to the city from the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley, where it has been on long-term loan since 2015.

Makers and Machines will also encourage visitors to think about the implications of new technology such as AI, as well as putting on display some frankly joyous products of yesteryear like this Sinclair ZX81 (above) the predecessor to the Sinclair Spectrum. The exhibition is part of the wider Thinktank Museum so access is only allowed with full entry to Thinktank. More


We're giving away 45 pairs of tickets to GREASE: The Live Experience!

Global phenomenon Secret Cinema is coming to Brum for the first time ever, July 26 to August 13, and they are NOT doing things by halves having created an entire Rydell High world for you to be a part of as they bring Grease: The Live Experience to town.

The NEC dates promise to be mind-blowingly immersive — far, far from a simple film screening, as the site map above shows.

To celebrate Secret Cinema's long-awaited arrival in these parts and to celebrate the 45th anniversary of Grease they're giving 45 I Choose Birmingham subscribers a pair of tickets to the show on July 27 only. To be in with a chance of winning all you need to do is follow this link and fill out the Google form therein.

That's it! Hurry though, as tickets are given away on a first come, first served basis. Entrants must sign up by 11:59pm on Friday, July 21 to be eligible. Winners will notified by Secret Cinema/NEC via email, no later than Tuesday, July 25. Full T&C can be found here and here.


"I got hit by an elephant's tusk!" a little girl who I've never met before tells me as we file out of the theatre at the interval, a terrific smile across her face, her eyes filled with magic.

This will have happened in the opening four minutes of The Lion King when a procession of puppet animals, each more preposterous than the last, troop — and sometimes sprint — to the stage along the public gangways. Being clipped (ever so gently, I should add) by an elephant is little surprise so stupendously immersive is the show that premiered on New York's Broadway in 1997 before London’s West End in 1999, and has since toured the world being watched by more than 110 million.

In those mad opening minutes I turned to my guest who, without taking her eye off the beauty (and I do mean beauty) all around her, said: "I think I'm going to cry and I don't know why."

That'll be the emotion. The emotion conjured by the single most awe-inspiring stage production ever masterminded. It takes around 150 people to put the show on each night — with 50 onstage, 100 backstage and at least two in the Waldorf and Statler seats. There are 230 different puppets including rod, shadow and giants — if you ever wanted to witness a pair of life-sized giraffes bow during a standing ovation, I suspect this is your one and only chance.

But as much as Disney can (and has) thrown buckets of dosh at the production, The Lion King is much more than that. The first part out punches the second — something I feel is more commonly true than vice versa — but the mercurial acting and the gripping plot play-out for the full duration. The intensity dips and returns, the comedic punctuation well-paced and charmingly tweaked to bring it up to date and to factor in geography, while the staging and costuming are, quite simply, unlike anything else I've ever seen.

In the show programme Hippodrome Artistic Director, Jon Gilchrist, writes "For nearly one and a quarter centuries we have been providing the region with 'goosebump' moments. These moments might be the sound of the orchestra warming up, the sight of a full house on their feet at the curtain call... or the roar of laughter from families." He's right. It's wild, isn't it, what live stage performance can do? It hits different to anything else we have in our entertainment armoury.

And The Lion King is perhaps the purest example that's visited our city in years, possibly decades. It makes the entire auditorium its stage, hooking the audience in, one and all, and the goosebumps, well, I'm still feeling them — residual magic, 12 hours after the curtain fell. There'll be a little girl somewhere on her way to school, right now, feeling them too.

Tickets remain particularly towards the end of the run


Like The Twilight Zone only much less chilling and way more chill, Birmingham Festival 23's Twilight Takeover is the daily 7pm slot for the fast approaching ten-dayer, and it's packed with serious talent.

The first of said sessions is on July 31 — by which time the festival will be three days old —and it features the Birmingham Irish Association with We Built This City. A celebration of the deep Irish routes flowing through the foundations of Brum expect a grand lineup of Irish musicians and performers taking to the stage embodying the spirit of Irish culture. There'll be rousing renditions of traditional tunes and a colossal ceilidh.

Up next on the Tuesday (August 1 and pictured above) is another chance to see the grime-powered stage play Grimeboy, from former Brum Poet Laureate, Casey Bailey. This one showed at The Rep, back in April, but is given extra lungs with an outdoorsy appearance here. The show asks what happens when your biggest rival becomes your best friend? How do you prepare for a battle that doesn’t involve the mic and the decks? Set in the world of Grime MC-ing it will showcase exactly why Casey is one of our biggest talents today.

On August 2 What If is an untold street musical exploring the journey of three main characters: Petta-gay, who took the gallant step to travel to Brum on Empire Windrush, Jada who has a life-changing decision to make, and Blessing who needs to dig deep and take a leap of faith despite the naysayers. Expect plenty of Brum references here and some bigger than big beats.

On Thursday Urdu, Ndebele, Arabic and English intertwine with poetry, rap, melodies and movement in a symphony crafted by a triumvirate of Birmingham storytellers with Languages Between Strangers, while on the Friday things get post-apocalyptic with The Blackout

The last Twilight Takeover (although the festival will still have a day to play) could be the biggest as Mast Qalandar Dancehall Mashup takes centre stage. This is billed as "a mesmerising intercultural fusion of music and dance" directed by Mukhtar Dar, with music by Ivor Novello Award winning composer and Kings Heathen, Simon Duggal. This international extravaganza celebrates solidarity and resilience in Birmingham’s communities, blending soul-stirring Sufi, pulsating bass, infectious dancehall vibes and even English Folk. I know, right?  More


Call me a Leninist but I think talent should be equally distributed. It's just not fair when a superb actor also has the musical Midas touch, but Damian Lewis seems to have bagged both. Where's cultural Communism when you need it?

His album, Mission Creep, is a thoughtful collection of rootsy, rock and jazz-tinged songs that have their origin back when Lewis left school and took to the road with his guitar — busking through continental Europe. This experience has stayed with Damian ever since.

Acting of course took over, and took off, but Lewis kept his hand in, playing the odd wrap party as part of a scratch band, but the idea of actually making a record only came to him during Lockdown. With the time and space away from a busy acting schedule he was able to throw himself into playing and writing, and the ideas started to flow. And flow.

Meeting and then teaming up with American jazz musician, Giacomo Smith, inspired Lewis to start playing his own songs in public. Smith introduced Damian to some of the musicians from the much revered Kansas Smitty’s House Band, with whom he immediately jelled – in the studio and on stage. They formed a band fronted by Damian and started gigging.

A festival appearance at Wilderness last year led to more live shows. Packed gigs at that there London’s Omeara, Koko, the Tabernacle and Hoxton Hall resulted in glowing reviews from the crowds and the critics. It's our turn to make that judgement as he's playing Birmingham's Town Hall, September 15, and you're more than a little invited. Book
Reminder, both the Colmore Food Festival and the JQ Festival are this weekend. 

This Friday, The Secret Garden continues a summer season of outdoor theatre at Birmingham Botanical Gardens which runs until late August. Pack up your picnics, dust off your camping chairs and grab tickets to upcoming shows including Robin Hood, Twelfth Night and Pride & Prejudice

B:Music, the music charity responsible for Town Hall and Symphony Hall, has announced the full line-up for B:JazzFest, which will take place from August 7 to 11. The majority of events are free. Tickets 

Solihull Summer Fest returns to Tudor Grange Park this weekend (July 22 and 23) with joint headliners, Lisa Stansfield and Sophie Ellis-Bextor on Saturday and The Human League, headlining on Sunday. £55 and up

Sofar Birmingham has announced three live music outdoor shows in Bournville (Aug 2), Moseley (Aug 19) and Edgbaston (Aug 28). All are BYOB and tickets range from £15 (Bournville) to £17 (Edgbaston). 

Bournville artist Milan Topalović is hosting Summer Art Classes at Selly Manor, on four dates in July and August. From £25.20 

Original Patty Men are doing a buy one get one free on burgers every Wednesday and Thursday throughout summer when dining in at their Digbeth venue only. You'll need to show them this Instagram post before ordering and you should read the T&C thereon.  
WORDS: Tom Cullen 

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The Lion King

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