Writing a Play Review

Why would someone need to write a review for a theatrical play? First of all, to inform the potential audience about what they are going to pay money for; whether a play does or does not contain controversial scenes; whether it is worth attending, at least. Your goal as a reviewer is to provide the audience with an accurate opinion on the play, and to provide them with a context regarding it: actors, decorations, the director, dialogues, the script, and so on.

Steps for Writing a Play Review

  1. Watch the play. But before doing so, you must gather information about the play and the theater. It should include the backgrounds of the actors and the director, the history of the theater, the general plot of the play you will be watching, and so on. By doing so you will get yourself into the context surrounding the play; otherwise, you will be on the same terms as other visitors. Also, prepare to take some notes.
  2. You should evaluate what you can see, because it is the most obvious part of a play. Choose seats from which you can see all the stage and the actors closely, or use a binocular. Your task is to pay attention to costumes, actors’ expressions, decorations, and lightning. Try to remember the most remarkable and characteristic visual images, and focus on them when reviewing this part of a play.
  3. Music and other sound effects is what you need to evaluate next. It might be a difficult task if you are not a musician; however, even an unsophisticated spectator can decide whether they like or dislike the music they hear; you do not need to be an expert in this area to understand whether the music fits the play or not.
  4. The actual performance of actors, as well as dramaturgy are perhaps the most important part of a play. Are the actors professional or amateur? Is the director renowned? You must pay attention to whether the actors managed to convincingly convey mood and emotions through their play; whether the general idea of the play is clear and understood; whether the play is intense and engaging, and so on.
  5. Next, evaluate the plot itself. Breaches in logic, messy narration, a weak or trivial main idea, silly scenes – this is what definitely makes it worse. Does the plot make you follow it, or do you feel bored with it? Does it have any ethical value? Does it raise important and actual questions? Does the plot and the events in the play affect you emotionally? Your should answer these and other similar questions.
  6. Is there something you would like to change in the play? What would you do if you were the director? What did you like the most, and what did you dislike? Did the director and the cast manage to fulfill the task that the plot set for them? This part is your subjective opinion, so you should probably emphasize this. Remember, someone might like what you disliked, and on the contrary, so there is no need to be categorical.

Key Points to Consider

  1. Keep in mind that costumes sometimes may not absolutely fit the general setting of the play. For example, you might be reviewing a contemporary remake of Shakespeare’s tragedy; most likely, in a play like this, you will not see any traditional costumes, but rather something unexpected or avantgarde. Do not rush into judging it, claiming that such approach spoils the play; instead, try to figure out whether the adaptation affects the play, its mood, and significance in a positive or negative way. It may happen that you will like the contemporary version of classics more than the original. The same refers to decorations and other visuals. Try to be unbiased.
  2. You are reviewing a theatrical play, not a movie, so you should be aware of possible specifics. Actors in a play do not necessarily need to act realistically – their voices and intonations might also be mannered, baroque, or somewhat histrionic. Do not think the play is bad just because actors do not speak as people would in real life. Try to understand whether it contributes to the general atmosphere of the play; no matter if the acting is baroque or not – you will definitely understand when it is just bad, and when it is done on purpose to emphasize something.
  3. Taking notes in a theater might be a hard task; most likely, you will not be able to write much down, and typing in your phone would take too much time (and its light would distract other people). So, most likely you will have to rely strongly on your memory. A good idea would be to see the play at least twice, or watch it as a recording. If you are seeing it live, pay attention only to the most significant aspects, otherwise you will get lost in details and miss something crucial.
  4. Write your review from an outline that is based on your notes and research. Then write a first draft, second draft, and a final draft. Edit your final draft at least two times.

Do and Don’t

Do

  • Get to know more about the play, the cast, the director, and the theater before you attend the play; this way you will be more prepared for what you will see.
  • Choose a modern play for a start, not a classical one; classics are harder to evaluate, because they have been performed for decades or even centuries, and the performance will be most likely perfected.
  • Expect the play to be good. In this case, if it matches your expectations, you will be pleased twice as much, and if it does not – your review will be sharper, so to say.
  • Pay the most attention to the most significant aspects of the play, because most likely, you will not be able to take that many notes while watching it.
Don’t

  • Base your evaluation on personal likes or dislikes. For example, “I did not like the play because I like comedies, and this play was tragic” is a bad premise.
  • Be rude or disrespectful in your review; to put together a theatrical play is a large amount of work, even if it is bad, so make your critique friendly, even if you are not satisfied with it.
  • Write a review until you fully understand the play. Sometimes you notice nuances only when watching a play for the second or third time, so make sure you got everything before you start writing.

Common Mistakes When Writing a Play Review

- Focusing on just one or two aspects of the play (positive or negative) when writing a review, omitting everything else.
- Watching a play just once, and rushing to write a review without fully understanding the plot and the artistic techniques used in it.
- Not gathering information relevant to the play before watching it, and thus not engaging in the context, without which it may be more difficult to evaluate the play objectively.

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