Mark Amory

The Half

The Half: Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage, by Simon Annand

The Half
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The Half: Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage

Simon Annand

Faber, pp. 308, £

‘The Half’ is how actors refer to the half hour before their play begins, when they ready themselves, steady themselves, for their performance. For 25 years Simon Annand has been allowed to catch these vulnerable moments and the result is a series of intimate, revealing and beautiful portraits.

Many of the subjects are famous, a few are not. Some do exercises like athletes, pulling their limbs into unlikely positions — sometimes sitting beside a wash-basin, like Saffron Burrows (above). Others lie on the floor; Derek Jacobi before ‘The Tempest’ may be asleep. Julia Stiles looks defiant. Glenda Jackson and Max von Sydow, surprisingly, roar with laughter. Naturally enough, many are peering at the equipment they are about to work with, perfecting make-up, checking hair, though Tim Piggott-Smith manages to telephone at the same time.

The most interesting are those doing what you immediately feel you should have foreseen: the actor gazes into space, focusing mentally but not physically, concentrating with an intensity that sometimes looks bleak or even despairing, lost to the world. In 1986 Daniel Day Lewis is already giving himself over to his role with the completeness that became world-famous.

Eileen Atkins examines her own face with a fierce scrutiny that seems to be searching for something to criticise.

A few stare back at the camera and so at us. This is disconcerting, rather like catching the eye of someone who is talking on the telephone when they laugh. Just as you cannot even pretend to share a joke you have not heard, you cannot respond appropriately to a look that comes from somewhere you have not been.