Benedict Cumberbatch as you’ve never seen him before

Sherlock star and Doctor Who's David Tennant among the actors captured backstage in Simon Annand's photo exhibition

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It’s just minutes before the curtain rises at the National Theatre, soon another production of Frankenstein will begin.  Backstage, Benedict Cumberbatch mentally (and physically) prepares for the play. In the image above we enjoy a never-before-seen glimpse into the actor’s private world before his public performance – in this case, as the Creature – begins. 

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The photograph was taken by Simon Annand, whose latest exhibition, The Half, transports people behind the scenes into the dressing rooms of the stars, capturing them “make the psychological negotiation that is required between themselves and the fictional character”.

Annand has spent 30 years as a production photographer working with the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Court and the Moscow Arts Theatre to name but a few.  In this time, he has gained unprecedented and intimate access to many of the biggest stars in theatre during “the half” or “the final call”, the half an hour period “when an actor is left in solitude to focus on the performance ahead of them”.

“Each evening an actor enters the building as themselves but will go on the stage as somebody else,” says Annand, who released his celebrated book, The Half, in 2008, where some of the current exhibition images can be found.  He adds: “To photograph actors when they are ‘getting into character’ is to see them at their most photogenic as you can see why they have been attracted to this particular thrill of becoming another.”

“In a world which increasingly allows us to have a ‘second chance’, live performance is a unique handmade piece of work, which is created in front of you and cannot rely on another take, as in film, or digital correction if something goes wrong. The performer is therefore very exposed and there is something endlessly romantic and heroic about it.”

The exhibition includes pictures of Anthony Hopkins, Daniel Day Lewis, Judi Dench, John Gielgud, Jeremy Irons, Jude Law, Maggie Smith, Martin Sheen, Kevin Spacey and Ralph Fiennes.

In addition Annand will showcase new images of David Tennant (above right) ahead of his performance in The Rivals at the Barbican Theatre in 2000, Amanda Holden (left) preparing for Shrek at the Theatre Royal in Haymarket in 2011, Stephen Fry in Common Pursuit at the Phoenix Theatre in 1988 and Matt Lucas ahead of a Les Misérables performance at the Queen’s Theatre last year.  

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Simon Annand: The Half can be seen at the Idea Generation Gallery, London E2 from Friday 24 February until 8 April 2012