The Empire by Michael Ball

Not too long ago, it was the ‘Stratford Literary Festival Winter Weekend’, and when I spotted that Michael Ball was making an appearence, I knew I had to try and visit. Especially as my last attempt to see him in ‘Hairspray’, not long after theatres began reopening after Covid, had not quite gone to plan.

Michael Ball was attending to talk about his new book, ‘The Empire’. A novel set in the inter-war years, this is a love letter to theatre – clearly, I am sure we all realise, a subject close to the heart of the author. And this became even more obvious as Michael Ball spoke to the audience at the festival about his career, book and writing process.

I am just going to get straight to point: I loved this book. It was (a favourite phrase of mine) a hug in a book. This is a great comfort read, especially for these cold and dreary winter days as you are transported to all the glamour of The Empire. You meet such an amazing cast of characters (I mean, there is literally a cast list at the start of the book), who are all thrown together and connected by their love of the theatre and, especially, the Empire.

But what is really fantastic about this book is that it is also a story with a heart. It touches on key issues such as mental health and the attitudes of society at the time that make it such a thought-provoking read, too. Each issue is carefully handled and is accurately woven into the story, and it all adds to a rich tapestry, rather than seeming like any kind of token.

And, well, the drama throughout the book is such perfection – I was not expecting quite the number of twists and turns that the reader encounters, but it was brilliant and definitely creates a page-turner.

So, if you are a fan of a charming piece of historical fiction, which is full of life and fun, then this is the book for you – especially as a little escapism for the cold winter months.

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