How to Write a Play Review

The Nuts and Bolts of the Theatre Review

The play review should serve a number of functions:

  1. They serve as a record of a theatrical production for the future.
  2. They help you as an audience member, discover how the production’s elements such as: lighting design, costumes, set, direction, music etc. all contribute to your opinion of the play.
  3. They serve to educate a theatre audience.

Watch the following video as Michael Billington, theatre critic for The Guardian, gives us a few important tips for writing an effective and engaging theatre review.

You can explore some current play reviews from The Guardian here.

Play reviews should be specific. Avoid generalizations such as the set was “great” and the acting was “wonderful”. Tell us exactly why you thought the set was great and the acting wonderful-- providing examples to back up your ideas. Refer to the actors by name. If possible, describe the actors at work: “Smith’s quiet stillness drew our attention and allowed us to see the pain she was carrying inside.”

Play reviews should also be balanced. As entertaining as it might be to write a scathing review, remember to mention areas of commendable work as well as the areas that, in your opinion, fell short. A review of a production usually focuses on two things: the writer’s intentions for the script and the director’s concept. Sometimes these are in conflict. Does the director’s interpretation of the script help or hinder?

Your introductory paragraph might contain information about the production, its venue, and the director, and so forth. Try to begin the review in an exciting way to make the reader interested in what you have to say about the production. Rather than offer a plot synopsis early on, write about an exciting moment in the play that could provide a springboard for the rest of your review.

If you are going to provide a plot synopsis in a subsequent paragraph, make sure it’s no longer than three sentences.

Subsequent paragraphs might focus on the acting, set design, music, lights, costumes and props among other things. Ask yourself if these elements are in keeping with the playwright’s intention and/or the director’s concept. Do they serve the production? Be specific. Make the connections between your opinions and what you actually saw on stage. You can also talk about what the audience might be discussing after the play, central idea of the play, the plot structure and genre of play, (i.e. tragedy, comedy, drama, musical), and of course what you like and don't like about the play.

Your final paragraph should point back to the introduction. What is the main point you have been making with your review? The closing paragraph might offer a final impression of the production, just as your opening paragraph perhaps offered an initial impression.   (Adapted from D.S. Brenna’s How to Write a Play Review)

So that's how you can structure your essay, but  here are a few tips on how to prepare for the assignment. When you  go to the theatre, make sure to take notes either during intermission or immediately following the show so you don't forget what you observed and felt.  If you can, perhaps see it twice, so that you can just sit back and enjoy it fully the first time, and then come back a second time to analyze it. Also don't forget to take a program (if there is one) for your review. This will help you correctly name the title of the production, the playwright, and identify the actors, the director, the designers etc.

And above all, enjoy the show! Your local theatre community will be thrilled that an "informed" audience member, such as yourself, is coming to support them and someone who can appreciate their hard work.

Hopefully the play you choose to review as part of your formal assignment will go better than this....