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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. 

At Theatre Haus, we pride ourselves on agility and transparency. Over the years, we’ve written numerous opinion pieces on the topic of theatre criticism, the function of reviews and their place in the modern world. We’ve hyperlinked these pieces, as relevant, throughout this article. 

Recently, the age-old debate of a reviewer’s place in the artistic landscape has come to the forefront – in social media groups, in green room discussions, and certainly within our email inbox. With this, now is the prime time to address the questions/concerns, express our position and hopefully create some understanding about the complexity of the topic. 

1. What is a review?

As we’ve written in articles before, a review is many things and serves many purposes, and sometimes it’s easier to outline what a review is not. A review:

Is Is Not
  • subjective
  • an analysis and evaluation
  • justified by evidence
  • a marketing tool
  • just one reviewer’s perspective of one performance, on one date of a potentially long season
  • just one product/form of theatre criticism
  • an art form in its own right
  • to inform audiences
  • to offer feedback and suggestions
  • 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
  • the opinion of every audience member
  • reflective of the entire season or every creative involved
  • for everyone
  • for the sole purpose of making artists feel good or promoting a show 
  • ​​positive feedback at the neglect of honesty
  • a grilled cheese sandwich

On top of these considerations, there are also numerous factors that influence reviews:

Internal External
  • technical components
  • aesthetics/atmosphere
  • direction choices
  • chemistry
  • performance quality
  • production quality
  • production history
  • script writing
  • social/cultural trends
  • political climate
  • historical context
  • audience/community
  • venue or location
  • marketing and publicity
  • weather/climate
  • timing/scheduling
  • reviewer’s personal circumstances

We think it is important to remember that a review is simply the perspective of one person (influenced by their own worldview, education and experience) of one performance (shaped by both the successes and challenges of live entertainment) of one production (delivered by an extensive team of creatives, each with their own stories) usually on a preview or opening show of a long season (through which choices change and creases are ironed out). 

2. Isn’t everyone a critic?

We live in the digital age, and we acknowledge the power of social media to elevate critics

Regardless of whether someone writes reviews professionally, through a barter system, or for a publication; social media has created critics of us all. The everyday person has a platform at their fingertips and a crowd to influence, particularly when they are either impressed or dissatisfied with a product/service. 

Where we hope to differentiate our articles from a casual social media post, however, is with in-depth analysis, evaluation with justification, skilled writers and a recognisable review structure. Our reviewers, with either tertiary education or experience in the arts, are provided with a template complete with scaffolding, quick guides for discussing marginalised groups, and even references for evaluative terminology. 

3. Where does encouragement fit into the conversation?

We are strong advocates for encouraging voices within the creative community. We implore family, friends, and audience members to recognise the power of their voices and always opt for positivity in the foyer of our beloved events. 

As mentioned earlier, reviews are not fluff pieces, they aren’t a simple pat on the back, and they don’t exist solely to make artists feel good. They serve a more complex purpose. While encouraging words and compliments are common in reviews, they are so much more than that. When it comes to youth, we have a different perspective.

4. Why won’t you review kids’ shows?

We choose not to review kids’ theatre on principle. We believe in creating a safe and supportive environment for young performers to explore their creativity without fear of public criticism. Kids’ theatre is a developmental process where young artists are still finding their voice, and public criticism can be damaging. We want to celebrate and support young performers instead, promoting their talent and helping them grow. 

5. Do editors ever make reviewers change or omit comments?

We appreciate constructive criticism, but only when it is justified and solutions-orientated. There are times when reviewers may make statements that need further evidence or elaboration – if these issues are resolved, we support a review’s publication, if not we may have to place the comment into the “too subjective” category. 

In addition to justification, we may also ask reviewers to provide solutions to issues that they address – if a critical comment cannot be followed by a helpful suggestion, it may not be worth saying at all. 

6. What do you do when a review is overwhelmingly negative?

The truth is, Theatre Haus has historically published reviews as is. Negative or positive, we felt there was an understanding in the arts community of the risk involved in requesting a review of a production. 

The tides have shifted. The line between speaking an opinion and risking offence has never been more of a grey area, not only in the arts but in the world. Moreover, we’ve found that the easily offended are often dangerous in their reactions. 

After numerous death threats, legal complaints, unjust ostracisms, and more, we’ve taken a more pragmatic approach to negative reviews – both for the safety of our writers and our core leadership team. 

Our new process for overwhelmingly negative reviews is to send the review to the producers before publication. In some instances, these producers have then requested we not publish at all. 

This may help explain why some producers – community, independents, and professionals included – so rarely (or never) receive reviews from Theatre Haus. If you’re left asking where a review is, its absence may say more than enough. 

To further protect our team, we have also started rejecting review requests if members of the creative team or cast have been aggressive or abusive toward our team in the past. This extends to family members of these individuals. We have zero tolerance for abuse and have no qualms in saying no to a review if it puts our team at risk.

In saying all of this, these instances are the minority. In 9/10 situations, we are unable to review a show due to the busy schedules of our team. The earlier a review is requested, the more chance we have of covering the event.

7. Do you just post reviews that will make money? 

At the risk of being too transparent, Theatre Haus barely covers its costs through Google Advertising and promotional packages. While positive reviews do garner strong readership, the true revenue raiser is website traffic from strategically written editorials on trending topics – this far outweighs any received from reviews. While we look forward to the day that Theatre Haus might benefit from capitalism – we aren’t there yet.

It is also important to remember that our reviewers work on a barter basis – complimentary tickets to attend an event in exchange for a complimentary review. Both theatre-making and theatre reviewing take time, dedication and skill. 

8. Why are there so many review platforms? 

We like to think of all our “competitor” review platforms as fellow potato chip brands. Sometimes you feel like Smiths or Pringles, sometimes Kettles, and occasionally Twisties. At the end of the day, when you throw a party, everyone loves chips – the logo just helps to differentiate what you are getting. 

At Theatre Haus, we try to be like Smiths. They’re familiar, reliable and consistent (albeit they throw a few good surprise flavours in from time to time), they’re proudly local, from humble beginnings, and they’ve stood the test of time. 

Shout out to all the other chip brands – we mean review platforms – Blue Curtains, Stage Whispers, Bravo Brisbane, Nothing Ever Happens in Brisbane, Aussie Theatre, and those who’ve come and gone over the years. We appreciate your tireless effort to walk this challenging line and serve the theatre community alongside us.

9. What do you ask of the arts community?

We ask that the art community remember to:

  1. Love creating, not the creation: You are permitted, by the very meaning and spirit of art, to just create – review free. We do not need to review your show or performance for it to have been a success, for it to be a celebration of your artistry.
  2. Know their limits: If you or someone within your circle does not have the capacity to receive constructive criticism or cope with the risk of negative feedback, refrain from reading reviews and let your peers know. 
  3. Have the conversation: Creative teams, have the discussion about whether or not to invite reviewers before production begins, decide how you will engage with your cast about the decision; cast members, speak to your creatives so they are aware of your limitations or concerns.
  4. Value everyone’s humanity: We love and adore attending shows, writing reviews and providing pull quotes. But first and foremost, we value the dignity and humanity of our team and ask that you do the same.



Like theatre, reviews are art not science, and when we see them in that light we hold a very different appreciation for the writers and their creations. Some takeaway points from the above article.

  • Reviews are subjective
  • Critics are invited/requested
  • Abuse will not be tolerated
  • Human dignity must come first

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  1. Excellent explanation of the purpose of a review. This clarification was much needed. Well done team. ❤️❤️❤️

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