How to Review Stuff ::

[I wrote this “how to” for a group of reviewers currently assigned by Canberra writers organisation Scissors Paper Pen, via their Papercuts program, to the 2014 You Are Here festival. They’re reviewing all sorts: theatre, dance, film, panels, music, collaborative projects, so I was general and succinct.  It is divided into two sections: “Conduct”, covering what to do whilst attending the event, and “Content”, covering how to formulate your review. After ten days I can find no major faults with it, which means it may be good, even useful. Here:]


You will need:

  • A pen
  • A notepad/stack of coasters (do not use your phone)
  • A copy of the program (if possible)

Take note of:

  • Everything

That includes:

  • The crowd (age, level of interest, dress sense)
  • The venue (appropriateness, location, effect on show)
  • The seating (how many, intimate/distanced)
  • The stage (size, lighting, set)
  • The actors/musicians (age, role, charisma, delivery)
  • The direction (blocking, comfort of actors, general tenor/patchwork of play)
  • The play (writing quality/maturity, themes, depth of characters)
  • (Optional) A few words, ideally on conclusion of the play, from the playwright or director (actors are useless)


  • Taking notes can prevent you from being present. If you feel the need to stop and experience something (and if it’s good, you should), quit the compulsive note taking and just watch. Compulsive note taking prevents you from being an audience member, and that is a primary prerequisite of your role. If you were not “present”, even the people who were there may not be able to relate to your review.


Your review should at least say:

  • Who created what you saw (director and playwright)
  • What they created (brief description)
  • Why they created it (major theme/message)
  • What it involved (longer description)
  • How you received it, including what was good or bad or simply noteworthy
  • The single most resonant, important thing a viewer (you) would take from it

The best reviews:

  • Are written in plain English, which has been grouped into small clumps
  • Assume nothing, and are therefore accessible
  • Neither gush nor rant, but construct/deconstruct methodically
  • Are humble, if witty
  • Set the parameters within which they will reach their conclusion (the only capacity in which the writer as “I” should appear)
  • Pass judgment

A shekel for your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s