Advice for Theatre Reviewers

Recently, my editor at BroadwayWorld UK sent out a request for some advice about writing theatre reviews for a new initiative that is starting up. We ended up with a long email chain of advice, much of which I wish I'd heard when I first started writing reviews.

Of course, a lot of theatre reviewing is learning as you go, but I wanted to share with all of you what I sent in response in case any of my readers are thinking about becoming reviewers. I have four main tips:

Don't worry about what other reviewers are saying. 
When I first started writing reviews, I worried if mine differed from other reviewers' and if I was giving a show the same star rating everyone else was. However, I've since come to realize that I often enjoy when reviewers disagree about a show because it gives you a more holistic view of it as someone who hasn't seen it if you hear both the positive and negative opinions of it. Occasionally, I'm at odds with the rest of the critics on something, but I'm accepting that that's okay.

Don't try to take tons of notes during the show.
The first show that I reviewed for BroadwayWorld UK, I was surprised to see lots of other critics scribbling down notes furiously during the play. For the next few shows I saw, I tried to do this too but found it didn't help me that much -- and was disruptive to those around me. Now, I'll have a notebook within reach in case I want to quickly jot something down but most of the time I wait until interval and then the Tube ride home to write down notes. (My exception to this is when I review concerts as I note down who sang what songs.) 

Prepare before you go. 
Before I go to a show, I always make sure that I have whatever production photos I need from the PR and have read the whole press release. If I have time, I'll set up my review documents and even write down the names of the cast and creatives or write my paragraph about the production's history (example: is it a new play? Has this playwright done anything else recently? Is it a revival? If so, when was it last produced?). This makes my job easier when I get home to write my review.

Review the show for what it is. 
Nothing makes me more annoyed than when I read a review that clearly didn't take the show for what it was. For example, a lot of the other critics bashed Ruthless the Musical but I thought it was rather good...for a campy musical. In my review, I said that while it's not for everyone, it's a bit of good fun if that's what you want. Basically, don't review a panto as though it's a serious musical. I always try to acknowledge if something just isn't to my personal tastes, but is still a good production for what it is.

Do you have any tips for reviewing shows? What do you prefer to see in a review? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
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