How to review a performance…

Admin Luke looks at what makes a good review and how you can effectively judge what you see on stage.


Admin Luke looks at what makes a good review and how you can effectively judge what you see on stage.
With the awards season well underway I wanted to look at how we review shows and to ask what you specifically look for when watching / reviewing / evaluating a performance.
At MTAS we are always on the lookout for new writing talent and so a quick top-10 tips for how to write a good review is something that I hope will be useful. Obviously, there is no set ‘way’ to write a review but these are things I particularly like to see.

  1. Express Yourself
    • express-yourselfThere are no ‘rules’ when writing a review. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer; the person sat next to you may hate something you like. Neither of you are incorrect because it is your personal opinion. The only crime would be to sit on the fence because you do not want to share your opinion. Be honest about what you thought of the show – you are allowed to say things you did not like. In my experience of writing reviews I’ve found the middle of the road ‘3 out of 5 star’ reviews harder because I was not passionate about it for my love or hate!
  1. Justify
    • 4-v-3Back-up what you are saying with clear examples to support your arguments. If you are saying you did not like something then say why and perhaps give an example of something similar which you thought was better. If you just give your opinions without justifying them your audience are less likely to believe / trust it.
  1. Give Background
    • Most reviews start with a simple, short synopsis of the show (without spoilers) and give an overview of what it is about. This puts the production into context of what it’s about and some sort of understanding. Don’t however go into telling the entire story as this can either be boring or pointless if your reader has also seen the same show. Your trying to say how good / bad it was, not explaining what happened.
  2. Communicate
    • communicateYou have to be the eyes and ears of your readers. Unless they have also seen the show they have to know what it looked like, sounded like and how the atmosphere was, just from your words. This requires descriptive language and not just lots of ‘it was really good’.
  1. Use Names
    • Be specific when talking about actors on the stage and the people involved. If you can say how each actor was individually and how they communicated with the audience and other cast members for example. If youhello are talking about the choreography then say the name of the choreographer to recognise their input.
  2. Look at all aspects of the production that you can’t see
    • Sound – Can you hear everyone clearly? Are they balanced in volume? Are there sound effects and if so do they add to the story?
    • Lighting – What was the desired effect? Are there any interesting effects created with the lights or particular moments which ‘look’ good. How do they suggest location and time?tech
    • Costume – Did it show the characters, are they particularly unusual, do they signify anything in particular?
    • Set – Have they been creative with the use of staging and sets, do they come out of the floor or used projection for example. How do they transition from one scene to the next?
  1. Don’t confuse the character and the actor
    • This might sound obvious but I have seen examples where people have said they really didn’t like a certain actor in a show and you ask them why it’s because they didn’t like the character they played… this might have been the intention. It takes a really good actor to play a really bad character!
  2. Don’t forget the director!
    • directorSo you’ve mentioned the actors, all the technology and how it looked but what about what they were told to do… Has the director taken a particular style for this piece? Have they changed it (if it was an existing piece e.g. Shakespeare). Feel free to compare it to previous work by the same director and see if there are similarities.
  1. Summarise at the end but don’t repeat
    • At the end of your review make some comments about the overall feeling rather than the specifics and this is space for more generalised writing. Try not to repeat things you’ve already said however as this can be boring for a reader.
  1. Share in the right places!
    • When you’re happy with your review and have had someone proof-read it for mistakes then its time to shareit with the You don’t have to be a ‘critic’ to share your opinion and write your own reviews. Get your own blog, start a YouTube channel or apply to write for MTAS.
      If you’re a member of our page and see shows regularly why not try writing a review and sending it over – we’d love to hear from you!

When I started writing this post I asked the other admin and writers for MTAS what they look for in a show and here are some of their responses (just to show how different people look for different things!)

Admin Lou“Correct breathing techniques if I’m being honest! As a performer I look at what they’re hiring – so I look at what they look like, how well in shape they are (or aren’t depending on character) and whether they have good technique!”
Blogger DawnGood energy, connection between cast & with audience, joyful performances.
Blogger Charlie – Amazing vocals and strong story line!
Blogger Keira – The tech; lighting, sound, scene changes

Contact MTAS
Facebook – The Musical Theatre Appreciation Society
Twitter – @MTAS_Official
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