How to Write a Good Theater Review

By Bridgette Redman
A theater critic needs to communicate something insightful about a show.

Theater reviews matter because they capture the transient art of theater and create a permanent record of it. Critics are responsible for fairly evaluating a show against agreed-upon aesthetic standards to determine whether the production achieves its goals. For example, a farce should be high energy, a comedy should be funny and a satire should be biting. A review needs to communicate what was successful and not successful in a given production while engaging readers in the theatrical arts.

Research and Prepare

Writing a theater review begins long before the first word is typed on the screen. Research the show and the production you are reviewing. Read the press releases from the theater company and any previews to learn whether the production is attempting to achieve something specific. Know the genre of the show, its plot and its history. Learn who the playwright is. Some critics recommend reading the script before seeing the show whereas others avoid doing so lest they come into the production with preconceived notions.

Listen and Focus

Some of the most important work of writing a review is done at the theater. Pay close attention to the show and remain focused throughout. If you find your mind wandering, question why. Is it because the show is not compelling, or has an actor broken the scene at that particular moment? Pay attention to your body language. If something makes you sit forward in your chair, note what is happening on stage and what the choices are that led you to move. Some critics take notes during a show whereas others find that a distraction that keeps them from properly focusing. Do not prewrite a review. Spend time at the theater watching what the performers are doing and not writing the review. You get one chance to see the show so make the most of the time.

Evaluate and Analyze

After the show, think about what you have seen. Determine what was the single most important aspect of that particular show. Was it the acting or the choices the director made? Was it the unusual interpretation of the script? If the show was a premiere of a new script, spend more time than usual analyzing the script and whether it told an effective story, had good character development and was internally consistent. Evaluate the actors' choices made and whether they were committed, strong choices or whether they were trite or indecisive. Analyze whether the blocking and pacing contributed to the success of the show or whether it caused things to bog down and interfered with the story. Consider the technical choices the show made. Review things such as lighting, sound, costuming and the set and how those elements contributed to or interfered with the storytelling. If something was good in a show, ask yourself why and what specifically made it good; do the same if something was bad in a show.

Write

Begin with a strong and compelling lede that states the most important element of the production and your evaluation of it. Set the tone for the rest of the review with the opening. Provide a brief synopsis of the plot without including spoilers or dwelling too long on a retelling. Write what worked and what didn't work about a show but don't simply say "the acting was bad." Be specific about what worked or didn't work. Whenever you criticize something, provide a detail that supports the opinion. Provide enough detail so a reader may determine whether she would like the show. Write the review in third person. If you are going to violate this rule, make sure you earn the right to express your opinions in first person by making the first-person voice compelling, strong and appropriate. Keep opinions professional. Do not make personal comments about an actor, director or crew member. Do not make comments about a person's appearance unless it is relevant to the role being played. It is not necessary to comment upon every actor in a show, but discuss those who made particularly strong contributions -- whether positive or negative -- to a production. Give a recommendation as to whether the reader should see the show.

About the Author

As a professional writer since 1985, Bridgette Redman's career has included journalism, educational writing, book authoring and training. She's worked for daily newspapers, an educational publisher, websites, nonprofit associations and individuals. She is the author of two blogs, reviews live theater and has a weekly column in the "Lansing State Journal." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University.