The art of reviewing

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing a spot of theatre for free and getting to write about it for the local paper. Still a relative newbie when it comes to reviewing, and acutely aware of the importance of those words from an actor’s point of view, I felt as nervous as if I were the one onstage that evening!

The show in question, 84 Charing Cross Road performed by local company HumDrum Theatre, was brilliant, thus I was able to write a glowing review. However, the process got me thinking about the job of the reviewer, what to look out for when watching the performance, and whether there is indeed an art to good reviewing.

Review of 84 Charing Cross Road in local newspaper The News
Review of 84 Charing Cross Road in local newspaper The News

I read the local newspaper The News every morning as part of my job in a university press office. The paper often includes several theatre reviews of local shows, professional and amateur, so I have started poring over these in the belief that with each review I read I will absorb the structure, tone and rhythm as if by osmosis.

The work of the reviewer seems to be entirely different to that of both the news reporter and the feature writer. A skill all of its own, the writing of the reviewer has to be truthful, give the writer’s opinion but be balanced and fair, and come from a trusted source.

The title of this post is perhaps a little misleading. Is reviewing really an art, or is it a craft? The best way to get better at reviewing is to work at it. Improve your review writing style by reading and writing as many different theatre reviews as possible.

When I find a reviewer who’s work I particularly admire, I look at how their pieces are constructed, what elements they keep and what they have left out (reviews for The News have a word limit of 200 words). Crucially, I also notice how they manage to remain balanced and fair, regardless of the quality of the show they are reviewing.

Whether it is an art or in fact a craft, the writing of reviews is an influential element in the theatre-making process. As an actor, these words can hold great satisfaction or great disappointment. As a writer, I hope I can do my fellow actors justice, and perform the task entrusted to me with the integrity it calls for.

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