Tips for Writing a Review

Back in June this year, some of our Citizen Reviewers came together with the programme’s two editors – Dr Robin Loon for the English reviewers, and Liu Xiaoyi for Chinese – to have an informal discussion about their progress and thoughts so far. Robin and Xiaoyi also shared a whole lot of advice on how to approach theatre reviewing, and some points to keep in mind when penning a piece. Here are the top tips from the night.

Decide on your role as a reviewer
A review can serve as a piece of critique, a consumer guide, or as a documentation or public record – decide on the main role you’d like to take and stick with that, and don’t try to be too many things at once.

Write in the present tense
A review has to provide a vivid account of the play as though the action is unfolding before the reader, so use the present tense at all times – even if it seems counter-intuitive – unless you’re making a reference to specific events that took place in the past.

Make a stand
Be authoritative with what you say in your review by using words that carry weight, and be precise in your assessment and the way you describe things. You have to be clear about what you think of the production, otherwise it gives the impression that you aren’t sure of what you are saying.

Back up your claims
A review is not a piece of writing servicing the production and it has to have its own integrity, so don’t be afraid to mention things that you didn’t like about it. Your views need to be substantiated, however, so make sure you mention specific examples to back up your claims.

Don’t be too casual
While it is possible for a review to carry a casual tone, you want to prevent your review from sounding like a blog post by being too personal.

Make sure your piece is a review, not a synopsis
Try to sum up the entire storyline in one sentence. The reader is more interested in your thoughts on the performance than in what the play is about. However, you could include a web link at the end of the review for your readers to find out more about the play if they wish.

Don’t state the obvious
As a reviewer, you are not a quality surveyor or controller of a production. There has to be a level of commentary in your review. Comments on technical aspects such as the brightness of lights and the volume of sound are all quantitative markers and should not dominate a review.

Content comes first
It’s great to inject your own voice into your writing, but make sure your language isn’t so elaborate that it clouds the point you’re trying to make. The most important part of writing a review is to get your message across in the most effective way.

Only use big words when absolutely necessary
Avoid the excessive use of bombastic words in your review, unless you are very sure of their meaning and when they cannot be replaced by any other word.

Start off by keeping your reviews short and sweet
Write very concisely, or else you might lose the core sentiment of your review. To do this, try to isolate particular areas that impressed or annoyed you most about a production and focus on those, rather than attempt to cover everything. For our English Citizen Reviewers, the editorial requirement is to keep it within 500 words.

Check for spelling and grammar mistakes
Make sure you read through your review before submitting it to avoid careless mistakes.

Read as many reviews as you can
Reading reviews in reputable publications and websites will give you a better idea of how a good review should be written. Recommended English sites include:

Recommended Chinese sites include:

Watch a wide range of shows
Try to catch as many shows as you can – even the ones that are not necessarily your thing. This will broaden your perspective on theatre, and it’s also good to provide more coverage to smaller shows.

Citizens’ Reviews is a critical writing platform for anyone who is curious to learn how to document their opinions, thoughts; and pen their perspectives on the performances and productions they had just watched. Through this, we aim to document local theatre and encourage discourse and informed opinions among art enthusiasts. Find out more about the programme as well as our reviewers here.