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How to write a theatre review
By Susan Elkin - author of English for Common Entrance
06 Apr

Susan Elkin is an author and journalist, with extensive experience of theatre reviewing and 36 years’ teaching experience. She is also the author of our new English for Common Entrance range.
 
Children are often asked by teachers and textbooks to write reviews of shows they’ve seen. Yet, it’s quite a sophisticated skill and one which many adults would find quite difficult.
 
How can you, as parents, help your children to review the shows you’ve taken them to?
 
Here are ten things to talk to them about and to encourage your children to do:
 
1. Study the programme or cast list with your child in advance so that you both know who is playing or doing what. Then get Mo or Rosie to sit with a notebook and pen during the performance so that she or he can note things down as they occur. Note making in the dark is tricky but comes with practice!
 
2. In a review, every word written should say something specific and accurate about the show. Write “Freda Bloggs, as Lady Macbeth, shakes with anger in the early scenes which makes us feel even sorrier for her when she sleepwalks” rather than “Freda Bloggs acts really well”.
 
3. Discourage gushing. Words such as “fantastic”, “brilliant” or “superb” tell the reader nothing useful about the show except that the reviewer liked it.
 
4. Point out that whatever either of you thinks of a piece of theatre and however much you loathed it, people have worked very hard to present it you. Respect that. It’s fine to write, for example: “Bill Bucket’s Captain Hook is too gentle and likeable to be convincing” but not, on its own, “Bill Bucket is a terrible actor”.   
 
5. Remind Raj or Rita that what you see on a stage is the tip of the iceberg. Theatre is more than actors. A director has made it all happen. A writer has penned the work. Stage managers and crew are just out of sight working their socks off. Someone is controlling the lights and someone has designed set and costumes.  A good review comments on some of this.

6. There should be no mention of your journey to the theatre, the weather, the ice creams in the interval or anything else which is peripheral. This is not a diary entry! A well written review comments on the show and nothing else.
 
7.  The best reviews are written as soon after the show ends as possible. The fresher it is in the reviewer’s mind the better quality the reaction will be. If you have a train or bus journey home afterwards then that is probably a useful opportunity to get it done.
 
8. Don’t show the reviewer anyone else’s review before his or hers is written and sent off or handed in. Seeing another opinion or reaction will immediately cloud or colour judgement. It’s very useful, though, to read other reviews and compare it with your own afterwards.
 
9. But encourage Lia or Lev to read lots of reviews – websites, newspapers, magazines – of plays you they haven’t seen themselves. It helps to show how others, some of them very experienced, do it and there’s a lot to be learned from that.
 
10. No review should conclude with a banal: “I really enjoyed this production and would recommend it to all my friends”. Simply get the child to write what he or she has to say and then stop - unless a really neat ending which adds something concrete to the review comes to mind.
 

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