1883 Magazine

For the past 25 years, Simon Annand has lifted the veil on theatre photography, revealing a behind-the-scenes perspective of actors as they prepare themselves to take the stage. Entering the dressing rooms of many of the West End’s most famed theatres, Annand has photographed some of the industry’s most iconic actors, from Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton to Kevin Spacey and Ian McKellen.


In a new exhibition in conjunction with the launch of his earlier book entitled The Half; Annand has unleashed his vast collection of imagery that explore the intimate moments when the actor enters psychological negotiation during the 35 minute countdown before curtain up.  Portraying each actor as a worker, his subtle yet engaging portraits allow the viewer to see the physical and mental preparation that is required as the actor leaves their day behind, in readiness for performing on the stage that evening.

Featuring rare and unseen imagery, The Half exhibition takes place this month in East London’s Idea Generation Gallery. Placed side-by-side by the darker dressing room portrayals are also more vivid and flamboyant depictions of costumed actors psyching themselves to perform in some of the country’s most acclaimed new British musicals and pantomimes, altogether reveling in the success of an industry never more thriving as it is right now.


Your first theatre production photography came when you snapped Griff Rhys- Jones at the Lyric Theatre. Had you had any training before or after this, or did you hone your craft entirely on your own?

For the first eight years I had no training and taught myself in a cupboard how to develop film, which I couldn’t afford to send to a lab. Eventually I got a BA degree but this was more theoretical/historical than practical - it has been very useful though in knowing what has gone before in the area of portraiture.

With the 35-minute countdown to curtain call often times being quite a tense period, how have actors generally reacted to your presence backstage?

As each session has been arranged beforehand, the actors are comfortable and allow me to witness what they do. They encourage me to take photos of anything I see. Because they know I am on their side and not predatory there is no tension between them and me as photographer and many have said it is refreshing to be photographed in this way. I always try to fit in to their rhythms, which already exist, and not impose my own needs or personality.    

Out of the various productions you’ve worked on over the years, what has been your favourite to date?

If you mean regarding production photography, Warhorse, Jerusalem, Crime And Punishment, La Bal Masque in Paris and Too Clever By Half have been my highlights. All of these productions were ground breaking at the time. 

In regards to the many actors you’ve shot in the past as they prepared to take the stage, is there anyone in particular whose behavior in those moments stands out in your mind and why?

Every actor’s Half is different, depending on the play and how they feel that day. Some prefer consistency and stillness, especially if the role is especially demanding (Michael Sheen, for example, playing Hamlet, requested that no one spoke to him during his preparation), whilst others may play extremely loud music to psyche themselves up (Rafe Spall at the Royal Court).

Did you pick up on any particular rituals actors’ would have before they went on stage? If so, what were they?

I have seen many "rituals" and strange occurrences and parts of people’s bodies, but it all remains a secret and confidential. It is more interesting to keep it this way and I prefer to keep the trust, which has been placed in me.


Is there any actor in particular that you would like to shoot in the future?

Many. The most interesting are the young actors who are coming through and clearly show their talent, and the very oldest actors who have survived in the business and prospered. In their faces you can see a trace of all the fictional characters who have passed through.

At what point did you decide to compile the The Half? How did you find the process?

Right at the beginning I knew this would be ideal for a book. However the in-between world was unfamiliar for publishers as the style mixes formality and informality. It took nearly 25 years to find the right company to produce it. There has never been an extensive body of work on this subject and most people’s idea of a "dressing room" photo was connected to the application of eye make-up or lipstick. Someone said recently The Half has created a new sub-genre.

Having captured an intriguing insight into the world of British theatre, would you ever like to explore the like of Broadway and beyond?

Yes, it would be very interesting to see the differences and similarities within different theatre cultures. In France for example, there is no such thing as The Half, even though they still need to prepare. As part of the trip to New York in May, I’ll be doing half a dozen sessions on Broadway to include in the exhibition at The Players Club, from 06/05/12.

What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

2012 is looking good - the V&A is taking their version of The Half to New York and there is also an exhibition in Paris at PHOTO 12. Commissions for production work include The Tempest for the RSC, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for Rupert Goold and a Ravel double bill L’Heure Espagnole with L’Eenfant et les Sortileges at Glyndebourne.

Simon Annand: The Half is open to the public at The Idea Generation Gallery from now until 08/04/12

For more, check out www.simonannand.com

Words by Aideen Shannon

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