‘The Half’ is a project by photographer Simon Annand where he takes pictures of actors preparing for the stage, 30 minutes before the curtain goes up. The BBC recently featured his work, ahead of a new exhibition, and it caught my eye because of this wonderful photo of Dame Judi Dench:
The photo was taken 30 minutes before she went on stage in the play “Peter and Alice”. I went to the second night of this production, at the Noel Coward theatre in London, during the research for my biography of Josephine Tey.
I originally wanted to visit the Noel Coward theatre because it is the venue where Josephine Tey (writing as ‘Gordon Daviot’) saw her own plays produced: there are still photographs displayed in the theatre showing John Gielgud performing in her first production “Richard of Bordeaux”. I knew I would be in London for research (visiting the British Library and meeting Josephine Tey’s family), and when I discovered this play would be on at the same time it seemed perfect, because both the subject matter and the actors had links to Josephine Tey.
‘Peter and Alice’ is about a fictional meeting between Alice Liddell, who was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Davies, who was the inspiration for Peter Pan. Peter Davies and his brother Nico became publishers – and they published Josephine Tey’s books. Tey knew and wrote to the Davies brothers, and met them when she visited London.
Peter Davies was played by Ben Whishaw, and Alice Liddell was played by Dame Judi Dench. Josephine Tey knew many actors and theatre people, and two of her friends were the actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and the actress and director Margaret Webster: both Gwen and Margaret had long careers – and each of them worked with Judi Dench.
If you read chapter 9 of my Josephine Tey biography, you can find more information about the Noel Coward theatre and the productions there, and if you follow up the references in the index to my book there is a little more about Judi Dench.
Simon Annand’s website, and his description of ‘The Half’ project, and how those thirty minutes before curtain up are crucial for the actor to get in character, is here: http://www.simonannand.com/the-half. The project has been ongoing for some years, and some prints, and a book, are available.
– and do check out the BBC article, which explains more about what Dame Judi Dench was talking about just before the photo was taken, and gives details of the current exhibition where the photos can be viewed.