WHAT goes through the minds of Judi Dench, Alan Rickman, and other acting greats, seconds before they burst onto the stage in character?

A new Gravesend exhibition offers a glimpse into the intimacy of famous actors' dressing rooms, as they rare up for their part following the half hour call until the curtain rises.

The Half captures this transitional halfway-house as drama’s demi-gods shed themselves and take on their character – with expressions ranging from furrow-browed focus, to tension-releasing mirth.

There is an almost forbidden quality to staring at these usually private moments – including the brooding intensity of a topless Daniel Craig - snapped by photographer Simon Annand over 25 years.

From Cate Blanchett’s preoccupied, hunted stance before performing in Plenty to a giggling, tousled-haired Jennifer Ehle – the one constant is the recurring cigarette prop in this mesmerising gallery.

Mr Annand, who carefully chose each of the celebrated actors as subjects, said: “I am trying to show the actors as workers who have a serious job to do and need a lot of discipline for it.

“I am interested in what is in their head and their relationship with themselves and not with the camera.

“They are men and women first for me.

“They bring in what they have been thinking and feeling that day. They either use that for the character or they contain it. It is an amazingly photogenic time for an actor I think.”

Framed in a dressing table mirror and beaming an unselfconscious smile, Dame Judi Dench offers high praise, saying: “Simon Annand is one of the most amazing photographers I have had the pleasure of working with in the theatre.

“He is an individualist with an eye for the unusual. The results speak for themselves.”

There are more than 100 photographs charting a quarter century of theatre history with stolen shots of Vanessa Redgrave, Jim Broadbent, Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, Joanna Lumley all vying for attention in the white-washed surrounds of The Blake Gallery.

Gaze at a black-and-white Eric Porter readying himself for King Lear in 1987, or a colour photo of the ever-striking Rachel Weiz as she concentrates on doing up a scarlet dress ahead of A Streetcar Named Desire.

The free exhibition is curated by Kate Bailey, from V&A’s Department of Theatre and Performance’s, with Simon Annand and includes a number of new photographs on display for the first time. It will run at The Woodville until June 20.

General Manager of the Woodville Neil Chandler said: “I am very excited and proud to be able to present this exhibition in The Blake Gallery.

“It makes great use of a space designed by Gravesham Borough council as a community facility.

"It offers local residents and visitors to the area the opportunity to see professional works, previously displayed in London.”

To find out more visit Woodville.co.uk