The Half: Ben Whishaw photographed by Simon Annand

For 25 years Simon Annand has been photographing actors in the half hour before they take the stage. This film records a session with fast-rising actor Ben Whishaw in his West End dressing room

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Video Transcript

Simon Annand, Photographer

My father was a teacher with five kids so he didn’t have very much money and we went away on holiday abroad for the first and only time, and he was proud of that and we were thrilled. I saw a man with a camera and I thought it’d be great if we could have a photograph of us at that moment, so I asked him to do that. It marked the moment.

I was working on the bar at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, not a photographer, and there was a fantastic production going on in the theatre of Charlie’s Aunt with Gryff Rhys Jones, and I was curious about it, so I asked Gryff if I could photograph him, because he seemed to be the centre of this success. He was very kind and let me do some photographs of him just about to go on stage, and then in the dressing room, and I found a very different kind of energy in the dressing room than was apparent in the actual performance. In the performance he’s very ebullient; in the dressing room there was a kind of more introverted, maybe a little melancholic energy, which was interesting.

The actors are men and women first for me. They happen to be actors, they may happen to be famous aswell. I choose all the people myself: every person in the collection is for a reason there to try and reflect what’s going on in the English theatre from the fringe to the West End, and the different kinds of plays. This is a project that has been going on for 28 years, I think, now.



Good evening ladies and gentlemen, cast and company, this is your half-hour call. Thirty minutes until act one begins. Your half-hour call. Thank you.


Simon Annand

The half is a period of time, roughly half an hour, before the actors go on stage. You get counted down by the stage doors by the company manager to that moment where, once again, you have to go on and face a thousand strangers. It’s different everyday and they bring in with them what they’ve been thinking and feeling during that day. They either use that for the character or they contain it. That is an amazingly photogenic period of time, being with an actor, I think.



This is your quarter-hour call, fifteen minutes til act one begins. Your quarter hour call. Thank you.


Simon Annand

I’m trying to show the actors as workers who have a serious job to do, and they need a lot of discipline to do it, and I’m not particularly interested in the ephemera of the rooms, its really what’s in their head and I’m interested in their relationship to themselves, not their relationship to the camera.


Simon Annand to Ben Whishaw

Could you just do one for me? I’ve got Andrew in the foreground. Could you just look at Andrew and not move too much? Paul in the background is amazing. Really, really simple.



Call for Mr Scott and Mr Whishaw, standby, call for Mr Scott and Mr Whishaw. Thank you.


Simon Annand

Every person in the collection is there for a reason: to try and reflect what is going on in the English theatre, from the Fringe to the West End, and the different kinds of plays, the different generations and the different styles of acting. They all make up a very complex and very profound theatrical culture.


Simon Annand

Thanks, Ben.


Ben Whishaw

Thanks, guys.


This film was shot for a V&A display showcasing 25 years worth of photographs of actors shot by Simon Annand in dressing rooms during 'The Half'. 'The Half' is the theatre term for the tense and nervous half hour of introspection actors endure in their dressing rooms before the curtain goes up. This V&A display of Annand's sessions with actors including Daniel Craig and Kevin Spacey provides a rare glimpse into the dressing rooms of actors in the precious, private few moments before a show.

This film of a portrait session with actor Ben Whishaw provides new insights into both the tensions actors struggle with and the personal rituals that they undertake on a nightly basis