Brits call it “the half”: that 30-minute stretch before curtain when actors prep for a show. This ritual is the subject of Simon Annand’s photography anthology (“The Half”) documenting the makeup, cigarettes, and shabby glamor of British backstage life.
Annand’s book is a kind of theater-snob’s US Weekly, an artfully shot black and white collection of vulnerable, beautiful stage celebrities. Flitting through the pages is like binging on fine, dark chocolate: it’s glorious.
In the above photo Carey Mulligan preps for a 2007 performance “The Seagull” at the Royal Court. (The photo’s wonderful schism between décor and costume is typical of “The Half.”)
Mulligan made a detour to Hollywood superstardom following that production, but now she’s back onstage in “Through a Glass Darkly” (the Atlantic), her pinpoint focus still very much intact. Director David Leveaux had this to say of Mulligan’s talent: “In my life of directing actresses the one she most immediately reminds me of is Vanessa Redgrave. She has that same uncanny ability to move across the boundary between reading lines and beginning to act a scene, and you never see the join.” (NYTimes.)
That preternatural grasp of “the join” is surely typical of the most talented artists in any medium. Sam Tanenhaus references this ability in a Times review of Harold Bloom’s latest book, “The Anatomy of Influence.” He mentions “the mathematical or musical prodigy’s prehensile grasp of hidden structures,” arguing that Bloom hears and understands literature in a fundamental, profoundly impactful way foreign to us mortals. He intuitively grasps a work’s DNA.
It’s not typical to think of art in terms of the architectural, but maybe it’s not so off the mark. (Meryl Streep herself has said she creates a hidden structure in her work, an invisible framework that governs the actions and attitudes of her characters.) Those “structures” may not involve brinks or bolts, but they’re real in a different sense, real for the great performances they manifest. Who’s to say that, in Simon Annand’s photo, Carey Mulligan isn’t climbing, jumping, and running — all while sitting down?