October 17, 2008 / 2:59 PM / 10 years ago

New show captures the famous before curtain rises

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Anthony Hopkins, Ian McKellen and Cate Blanchett are among hundreds of famous faces captured during the intense moments before going on stage in a new exhibition by a British photographer.

Cast member Anthony Hopkins attends the premiere of "Beowulf" at the Mann Village theatre in Westwood, California November 5, 2007. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

For 25 years Simon Annand has toured British theatres, documenting the various ways actors prepare for their performances during the 30 nerve-wracking minutes before the curtain comes up, known in theatrical circles as “the Half.”

The Half: Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage opened at the National Theatre on October 2 and runs until November 9th.

The actors in Annand’s collection of revealing and intimate portraits range from international superstars to lesser-known denizens of the stage whose preparations vary from the predictable to the unexpected.

Blanchett smoulders, cigarette in hand, looking like a 1950s screen siren, while British institution Maureen Lipman is captured standing on her head. Something, Annand told Reuters, that was part of Lipman’s usual warm-up routine.

The historical scale of the exhibition is enormous, including actors such as Colin Firth, Daniel Day Lewis and Tim Roth before they became Hollywood stars.

Annand’s portrait of Sir John Gielgud, moments before his last stage performance at London’s Apollo Theatre contrasts starkly with the image of 17-year-old Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, the youngest actor featured in the collection, awaiting his first night in the play Equus.

As a result, Annand has managed to preserve some surprisingly personal moments on film, ranging from Vanessa Redgrave pictured drinking tea with an expression of intensity, to British actress Niamh Cusack pictured using the bathroom - a picture her family requested a print of to give as a present for her birthday.

“Her sisters love this picture,” Annand said.

He said that many of the famous stars he has photographed were surprised that he wanted to take a picture in these private moments, which were so obviously photogenic to him and admits that often, nothing is left to the imagination.

“I’ve seen lots of naughty bits, but we don’t show those.”

Annand describes his photographs as capturing a “permitted vulnerability, a permitted melancholia that is never normally seen when an actor is preparing for work.”

Annand said that his photographs provide an antidote to seeing actors merely as celebrities.

“Some of the work they do is quite technical and complicated,” he said. “They have to keep in training, be it vocal techniques or physical techniques, and I think if you see them simply as celebrities you don’t see this discipline.”

He said that in some cases you can almost see the actors wrestling with the transformation from everyday life into the fictional world before they take the stage.

“Sometimes they’ve had a terrible day, and when they come in they negotiate their own life with the life of the fictional character. And that is an amazing thing to witness.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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