Book review: Time To Act – Simon Annand

Simon Annand’s Time To Act is a beautiful book of photos capturing actors in the minutes before they go on stage

Tackling the constraints of the pandemic in its own way, Simon Annand’s fantastic new book of photos Time To Act has launched a virtual exhibition of some of the photographs which has now been extended to until Christmas. It’s an ingenious way of sharing some of the hundreds of images from the book and should surely whet the appetite for either just buying it now or putting on your list for Santa to collect soon.

Time to Act is a sneak peak into the backstage lives of actors on the West End. Split into four section – Half Hour Call, 15 Minute Call, 5 Minute Call and Curtain Up – Annand’s unique access provides a fascinating documentation of the preparation it takes to appear live on stage and how those methods compare and contrast across a wide range of performers.

From vocal warm-ups (Michelle Fairley’s primal scream) to stretches in the auditorium (Joshua Silver reaching out to the Globe), deliberate solitude (Jake Gyllenhaal and his dog) or cosy chats with castmates (Daniel Craig and David Oyelowo’s obvious chemistry) or even just Lesley Manville in her rollers puffing away on a fag, there’s a gorgeous unaffectedness here, a real sense that we’re getting a rare sight of these actors at their most unguarded, vulnerable even, with a lack of vanity that is most refreshing. 

There’s real skill in how the book is put together as well, the echoes of shared practice skittering from theatre to theatre, the same but different in each dressing room. And Annand’s way with a mirror is just astonishingly good, pretty much every photo that involves a mirror is a transcendent piece of art – the Sophie Okonedo and Juliette Binoche double-spread feels like it is photographing four different women, Olivia Williams, Kate Fleetwood and Lia Williams’ portraits just take your breath away, Glenn Close and Paapa Essiedu’s too. Oh and Josette Simon’s as well, it really is that kind of book – treasures on every page and there’s a whole lotta pages!

On a personal level, the timescale of the book also works beautifully for me as it focuses heavily on the last 10 years, which is pretty much the time I have been blogging. So it is great to be reminded of so many shows that I had committed to the dusty recesses of my creaky memory – Helen Mirren’s Phèdre, Toby Jones in The Painter at the Arcola, the glorious Flare Path with Sheridan Smith and Sienna Miller, the list just goes on and on.

And finally, whilst we wait for theatre to be allowed to rebound in whatever shape Covid-19 and government inaction allows, Time to Act serves as a gorgeous and timely reminder of the richness of the world of theatre as was and will be again.

All photos: Simon Annand



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