Book Review: “Shadowplay” By Joseph O’Connor


Some books make you feel like you’ve fallen into their pages and you’re watching the story unfold from behind a curtain. “Shadowplay” is one of those books.

It has quite the premise, and it features real people, mainly “Dracula” author Bram Stoker.

Set in London in 1878, Bram Stoker has taken up the offer to run the Lyceum Theatre as his writing career is going nowhere.

The rather flamboyant actor Henry Irving has appointed him as manager and plans to restore the Lyceum to its former glory. (Fun fact: Henry Irving was the first actor to be knighted).

Irving leaps off the page as his talent is coupled with behaviour that wouldn’t go amiss in “Withnail And I”.

The leading stage actress of the time was Ellen Terry, and she makes up the third member of this rather dysfunctional trio.

She is on Irving’s dream recruitment list for his productions, and the dynamic changes when she comes on board. The three eventually share the pressures and wonder of the Lyceum, but emotions, forbidden desires and personal issues cause friction and remorse.

It’s certainly not all downbeat though.

O’Connor’s gift is to weave whimsical moments in between the complexity of relationships and people. Situations are very obviously nods to Stoker’s “Dracula” which would eventually become a success after Stoker’s death.

Much like “Dracula”, the author tells this story through letters, witness testimony and journals.

“In every being who lives, there is a second self very little known to anyone.”

At its core, “Shadowplay” is a love story. And even with the backdrop of the Jack The Ripper murders, it never becomes too dark.

Everyone is pretending to be someone they’re not, and that is the delicious theme throughout this book. Stoker hides himself away in the draughty attic of the theatre to work on his stories, and it’s during these times we realise how conflicted he really is about his true self and desires.

You will immediately start reading up on these three main players, and discover Stoker was as much of an actor as his thespian friends.

It’s a beautiful story. I found myself thinking of Bram Stoker for days afterwards . . . that and Oscar Wilde’s black teeth!

Set aside an few hours, put the kettle on and lose yourself in the pages of “Shadowplay”.

For more book reviews from the “Friend” team, click here.

Tracey Steel

Having worked on a number of magazines over the years, Tracey has found her perfect place on The Friend as she’s obsessed with reading and never goes anywhere without a book! She reads all the PF stories with a mug of tea close by and usually a bit of strong cheese too!