Monday 6 April 2009

The Half: Photographs of Actors Preparing For The Stage

This beautiful book collects Simon Annand’s black-and-white photos of actors backstage and in their dressing rooms, half an hour or so before curtain-up. Taken over twenty-five years, the collection is a kind of Who’s Who of British theatre and features some wonderful, touching, funny and eccentric images . It’s a book to look through just before you have to go and complete some difficult task; its photos give courage and strength. There’s Michaels Horden and Gambon looking isolated and vulnerable; Simon Russell Beale gazing from his NT dressing room for Hamlet, then armoured up for Spamalot; cramped conditions at the Orange Tree. Michael Sheen nurses a nasty cold; Maureen Lipman stands on her head; Niamh Cusack sits on the loo. And it’s absolutely heartrending now to see the photo of the young Natasha Richardson, placed near those of her grandmother, mother and sister, in a white lace dress, arms open wide, as she prepares to play Nina in The Seagull in 1985. “When I become a great actress,” Chekhov’s Nina says, “come and see me act.” It is indeed a privilege to be around at the right time to be able to go and see all of these great actors act.