The Empire – Michael Ball

The Empire is the story of a theatre, of it’s productions, it’s history, it’s owners and it’s actors and actresses, stage hands, doorman, right down to the man who sells the tickets.

Jack Treadwell has spent the immediate years after the First World War in Paris. Now he returns home. He finds something at The Empire and he is drawn into the world of theatre both from the audience side and behind the stage. A world he never knew existed and could be part of.

Grace Hawkins is the managers assistant, but the manager is rather lacking and it seems a lot of the work falls to Grace. Even more so when she finds herself rewriting the most dreadful production of Macbeth.

Add in Stella the leading lady, Lance the heartthrob, Bill the washed up variety act, Ruby the musician, Evie the fading star and Lady Laisster a former showgirl herself and part owner of The Empire.

Whilst the show must go on, there is much else that is happening within the theatre and the book. The list of characters at the beginning is somewhat daunting (always completely useless I find when reading only kindle) and I waivered about carrying on as it seemed there was too many people and too much to fit in. I didn’t waiver and got consumed by life in the theatre and the romance of working on a production.

Of course it was never going to be easy. Rivalries both family and business do not seem to be resolved and there is an undercurrent of gangsters and the after affects of a war that are still being felt by everyone. With drama and romance comes humour and this is obviously an affectionate look at life in a theatre in age gone past. It was a great look at the past and anything which has a ‘behind the scenes’ element always will hold an interest for me. But too much was packed into this book, and at times it wasn’t clear where the focus was meant to be in terms of plot. That left me feeling a bit seen off when some of the more minor characters could have been fleshed out and added to the main plot line. Perhaps secondary lots could have been left for future books especially when the ending was as spectacular as it was.

This is Michael Ball’s debut novel and I understand we will get to know more about all these characters in a follow up. The cynic in me is never sure when famous (for something other than writing fiction) people start churning out novels. However, I could quite easily forget all that to be absorb in a good story to escape from the reality of everything around us – which is what going to theatre has always done. On that note, it is a job well done.

Thank you to the publisher via netgalley for the opportunity to read this book.

The Empire is out now.