Reviewing the review and what it is not

A review is a review is a review is a review.

According to Oxford Dictionary, a review is “a report in a newspaper or magazine, or on the internet, television or radio, in which somebody gives their opinion of a book, play, film, product, etc.” But what does that really entail? What kind of report? What sort of opinion?

At Theatre Haus we’ve decided to put together a brief look at what exactly a theatrical review is and what it is not.

A review is subjective

For Theatre Haus, a review is a subjective analytical reflection of a single audience member’s experiences of a single performance on one evening. 

The subjectivity and limitations of a review cannot be understated. A review is completed in a limited timeframe, by a person responding in accordance with their own lived experiences or values, about a performance or event that spans only a couple of hours or less.  

As a platform (and publisher), Theatre Haus acts as the middle man between the reviewer and event makers. That is, the management team behind the platform can’t physically attend every event, in every location across Australia, and so, the reviews themselves do not necessarily represent the views of Theatre Haus. 

Very likely, a review doesn’t even reflect the perspective of the reviewer if they’d seen it twice, or if they’d seen it on a different night. 

Furthermore, a review definitely does not reflect the quality of the overall season or all the production elements. It is 95% opinion, a considered and thoughtful opinion, but an opinion nonetheless.

With these things considered, there’s a strong element of chance involved. Was it the best performance? Was all the technology working? Did the reviewer blink during a pivotal moment? Subjective writing, particularly theatre reviews, are created by humans and are, therefore, imperfect.   

Rest assured, at Theatre Haus, we do try to curve the imperfections by ensuring all of our reviewers have completed education or training in the arts or similar, and have experience in both writing and within the theatre. We provide detailed scaffolding and checklists for reviews and every article undergoes a rigorous editing process.

A review is an analysis and evaluation

As a performance analysis, a review explores the history of a show, like its Broadway or West End runs, its development, its critical reception and awards or accolades. Often, the review considers where the show or event was conceived, where it’s been since then and why it’s being performed today, for this audience. Furthermore, it will explore the take-home messages, the plot and story arcs, themes and motifs, to better understand the purpose of presenting the piece and its impact on audiences. 

The piece will provide a breakdown of technical components, such as lighting and sound, and reflect on the performance elements used throughout and how they may have aided this message. 

As an evaluative piece, a review will include evaluative language, critical feedback and/or compliments. It will provide justifications and reasons for any judgements, and sometimes insight into alternative directions or choices.

A review will utilise theatre-specific terminology and may even avoid the use of personal pronouns (I, me, etc) and appear objective but – don’t be fooled – it is not.

A review is a tool (and often a pull quote)

Theatrical reviews are a useful tool to gauge perception, to use for promotion, and to seek constructive commentary; but they are, first and foremost, subjective. 

Generally, Theatre Haus will try to send a reviewer to a preview or opening night. While a show may not always be at its peak performance at this time, the start of a season, it is a great opportunity for the creative team to gauge the general perception of viewers, be alerted to any noticeable issues, and possibly reflect on feedback with the cast before the following weekend of shows.

Many production companies will pull quotes from reviews to help sell tickets and get BOS (bottoms on seats!). We love this! While reviews are not created for the sole purpose of promotion, they can be very useful in these circumstances as the quotes describe components of the production to look out for. In fact, the pull quote extracts information to make viewers notice theatrical elements even more. We love seeing our reviews shared across social media; generating comments like “Oh, I will have to see this now!” and “Can’t wait!”. We love sharing with the community, what we experienced in the audience. 

Similarly, cast and creatives sometimes add review snippets to their theatrical portfolios, websites and professional CVs as a form of accolade or celebration. It documents their performance as a moment in time, and while the curtain is closed, the words live on long after. 

Just like theatre, reviews are not science, they are art. Yet they can be useful tools for many involved and for many on the outside too.

A review is not…

  • Objective or all-encompassing
  • A cast list, a fluff piece or a pat on the back
  • A simple summary of the plot
  • A friend or family member’s opinion
  • A competition, a requirement or a right
  • To just make you feel good or help sell a show 
  • The opinion of every audience member
  • Reflective of the entire season or every creative involved
  • For everyone
  • A grilled cheese sandwich

Remember, Theatre Haus is invited to attend reviews. We are requested because, time and time again, we have proven our dedication to providing in-depth critical analysis of live entertainment. We don’t need to be invited for a show to be phenomenal, and you don’t need to be mentioned to fulfil your self-worth. A review is just a review, is just a review, is just a review. 

If you’re just looking for simple show promotion, we offer a range of opportunities through our submission portal. We share cast announcements, event/audition listings, and press releases. Time willing, we can also organise an interview and editorial to assist you in promoting your show. 

Get in touch today to find out more: [email protected]

Related Articles

Reflecting on Reviews in 2023

Beloved theatre community, where to start? 

Reviews are a staple of what we do here at Theatre Haus, it’s where we started – complimentary reviews in exchange for complimentary tickets to events. They aren’t without their controversy, and so, we wanted to lay it all out on the table – the good, the bad and the complicated.