Expression gallery

Facial expressions are important in drama. They can convey emotions, develop the story and communicate the feelings and thoughts of the characters to the audience.

Actors may use any combination of facial expression, gestures, movement and props to create the effect they want.

Browse through this gallery to see some expressions used in drama.


Actors can show happiness by smiling, laughing and making gestures such as hugging each other.

a young looking at each other intently

A smiling young couple

family celebrations in the pub with peiople raising their glasses up

Showing cheerfulness in a pub

an old couple smiling at each other

A smiling older couple

two friends hugging each other and smiling at the camera

Showing friendship by hugging


Actors can show sadness in a drama by crying, looking thoughtful, or using comforting gestures with each other.

a female character sitting with a suitcase and crying

Showing sadness by crying

a female character standing in a doorway looking pensive

Downcast expression shows sadness

a male character comforting a little girl

Using gesture to show shared sadness

Pain / grief

Actors can show emotional pain and grief by crying, shouting in anguish, or holding their head in their hands. They can show physical pain by facial expressions and gestures.

an actor with a look of anguish and pain

Using facial expressions to show emotional pain

Using facial expressions to show emotional pain

a pregnant bride in pain resting her hand on groom's shoulder

Using gesture and facial expression to convey physical pain

Horror / shock

Actors can show shock and horror by using facial expressions such as raised eyebrows, an open mouth and gestures such as throwing their arms up in the air.

a bag being snatched from a female character

Using a shocked expression in response to violent attack

a female comedy character showing shock in a humourous way

Showing shock, comedy style


Actors can use similar, but less exaggerated, versions of the gestures of shock and horror when they want to show surprise only.

a male character in partial drag looking surprised at female character

Showing surprise, comedy style

a female character looking shocked and surprised

Showing surprise

Aggression / anger

Actors can convey anger and aggression by facial expressions and by aggressive gestures towards the camera or other characters.

an angry confrontation in a pub

Showing anger with bared teeth and intimidating gestures

an male character being pinned against a door frame in an aggressive manner

Showing anger through physical violence

a male character brandishing his fist at another male

Showing physical aggression, comedy style

a female character making an aggressive gesture to the camera

Showing anger with aggressive gesture to camera

Insanity / madness

a male character with an evil smile and glint in his eye holding a meat cleaver

Showing malice and madness through expression and props

Actors can communicate insanity by looking dishevelled, adopting a wide-eyed stare, or brandishing weapons menacingly.


Actors can show worry through facial expressions and gestures such as biting their nails.

close up of a fenale character with a look of anxiety and worry on her face

Showing anxiety through facial expression

close up pf a man biting his nails

Showing anxiety through biting nails


Actors often create a sense of excitement or anticipation by looking off-stage, sometimes open-mouthed.

an actor in roman period costume looking up at something in the sky

Showing anticipation by looking off-stage

an actor looking expectant and shocked

Using facial expression to convey anticipation and tension


a male character with a furrowed brow conveying concentration

Showing concentration with furrowed brow and tight lips

Actors can purse their lips, furrow their brow and focus intently on what they are doing to convey concentration.


When actors need to reflect on-stage about dramatic events, they can show a thoughtful mood by their facial expression, by gestures such as resting their face on their hands, or by looking into the distance.

an actress with a sad expression resting her hand on her face and sitting alone

Leaning head on hands to show a sad reflective mood

an actress with a happy hopeful expression looking out a window

Gazing outwards to show a happier reflective mood


Actors can show exasperation through facial expressions, through jumping up and down, or by use of props.

a male character biting a pen and squinting his eyes to show frustration

Showing frustration through facial expression and use of props


Actors can grab food or other props hungrily, and seem to gobble it down, to convey greed.

a male character in victorian costume holding a pie in his habds

Showing greed through facial expression and use of props

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