This article discusses techniques to help you write a better review of theatre, musical theatre, opera, concerts, ballet, and just about any type of performance.

I’ve been reviewing shows professionally for three or four years now, and I hope the tips below are helpful!  

Reviewing performances is a wonderful way to get to see performances for free, and if you can get paid to review it’s also a fun way to put your professional writing skills to use.  

Personally, reviewing has really enriched my life, as I now regularly attend performances that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford. 

Remember reviewing is an artform, and has the potential to become part of the fabric of the performance industry in your country 🙂 It’s an important job.

A lot of prominent awards are also adjudicated by reviewers (partially because they’re some of the only people who see all the shows).

So how do you write a review of a performance?

First of all, there’s no single formula. The best approach is to look at some of your favourite reviews, and then break down exactly what the author does in each paragraph.

I discuss a method below that you can use as a launching pad for the development of your own style! 

You might want to consider including an introductory paragraph that sets the scene and gives key information.

What kind of show is this exactly? Who wrote it, and where is it playing?

In my experience the first paragraph also sets the tone of the piece i.e. ‘In this wonderful show …’ It’s that first critical adjective that readers are scanning for. 

In the second paragraph you might like to consider diving more deeply into the history of the work. When was the ballet first performed for instance? Are there any remarkable facts about its first performance, or who it was commissioned by? Deepen the reader’s understanding of the context of the work.

You have now given all the factual information, perhaps the reader would like to know what the story is actually about to assess whether this is the kind of show they would like to see. You might want to consider giving a summary of the plot, without necessarily giving away the ending, or creating too many spoilers. 

Try to think, what would you like to know before seeing the show? Perhaps the names of the main characters, the basic premise and underling conflict in the piece, and whether this is a tragedy or a comedy. What is the tone? Can the audience expect to laugh or cry? 

Now you’ve given loads of objective, factual info. One of the jobs of the reviewer is also to evaluate. To provide the reader with an assessment of the quality of the work.

It’s a good idea to turn your attention to as many areas of the production as you feel comfortable assessing, and qualified to assess. It’s also industry standard to mention the name of relevant persons i.e. the director, or the set designer (as well as the performers of course). 

Let’s take a theatrical production for instance. What did you think of the set design? Did it serve the piece well? Were there any risks taken? Do you feel the design was effective? 

Apply the same questions to costume, lighting design, props, sound design, composition, performance.

Finally, how do you feel the director has done overall? Have they brought all these elements together effectively to create a wonderful evening of entertainment? 

At the end of your review you might like to give a recommendation as to whether you believe the reader should see this production, or whether it is worth the ticket price.

As with a good essay, it might be worth considering what further conversations this piece may spark in the future. 

How to Get Started in Reviewing Performances? 

Many reviewers get started by reviewing at university dramatic societies, in the university student paper. 

Another way is to offer to write for free for publications that receive complimentary tickets, but do not pay reviewers.

Here’s a tip: next time you attend a performance, write a review of it! Once you have three of these reviews, try sending them out to publications and asking if they publication would like to take you on as a reviewer.

It’s not a bad idea to send these reviews out widely to as many places as possible, because remember you only need one to say yes! 

Do Reviewers have a Responsibilities?

Reviewing is a tactful job and each reviewer will have to develop their own code of ethics. It is wise to remember that if you hated an element of a production, that many others may not feel the same way.

Temper your praise and criticisms.

Remember the people you are reviewing are likely not amateurs who are doing this for fun and love, but who are at work, to put food on the table. 

People who work in performance are often employed on short term contracts, and in that environment reputation is absolutely everything. If you damage someone’s professional reputation on a whim, you may experience feelings of regret.

If someone is truly awful you should feel free to say so, but don’t underestimate the impact of such an evisceration. 

Most of all however, enjoy! Once you get your reviewing up and running it will add a new dimension to your life that can be deeply rewarding and really improve your quality of life! 

Remember that newspapers and certain websites also pay for reviews – so keep approaching them for work as your skills as a reviewer develop and mature! 

And I reckon it’s a great idea to keep reading the highest quality professional reviews, and analysing them to see what works best!

Categories: Non Fiction