Use the menu below to learn how to review a play.
Writing the Review
Below are some tips for writing play reviews:
| Writing the
The introduction should include the
A. The title of the play, the name of the playwright, and any pertinent
historical information regarding them (other similar works from
this period? by this writer?).
B. The name of the director, the place and date of the production
you attended, and the name of the production company (again, do
you know of any previous work by this company? this director?).
C. The thesis of your review, which should include (possibly in
more than a single statement) the following:
- A general impression of the relative success or failure of the
production, based on what you actually saw and on your initial
impression of how the play should have been performed.
(Note that even if the production did not exactly coincide with
your own conception of the play, you should not feel obliged to
condemn the performance outright. Be open-minded and willing to
weigh pros and cons.)
Papp's production of Lear captured
all the horror of a world where love can't be counted on and
where life is nasty, brutish, and appallingly short.
(Note that this thesis asserts that Papp captured the essence
of what is in the text itself -- the expectations set up by
the thesis are that the reviewer will then analyze the methods
by which the director achieved this effect.)
Smith's You Can't Take It With You
made me sympathize with the notion that freedom must permit
eccentricity and even, to a point, endorse it. Without that
sympathy, the play would have been reduced to pure chaos and
would have failed to portray an American ideal of freedom.
(This thesis suggests that "sympathy" was the director's
intention. Note also that the reviewer gives a strong indication
of what he/she expected to find in the production.)
- Since you will not be expected to discuss all aspects of the
production, focus your thesis on one or two major concerns that
the performance has or has not addressed. Read your assignment
carefully to find out which aspects of the performance are to
be emphasized in your review.
In You Can't Take It With You, the
acting by the family members on the open, exposed stage displayed
an innocent and vigorous freedom, as well as a proud independence
in their confrontation with accepted norms of behavior.
the Statement and Summary
Include a brief thematic summary (but
not a plot summary) of the play, and support that summary with concrete
evidence from the text.
You can include this summary in the introduction; or, if you wish
to expand the summary, include it in a separate paragraph following
| Writing the
Body of the Paper: The Review
Remember that in the body of the paper
you are obliged to deal specifically with each element of the production
that you mentioned in the introduction and thesis.
In order to give your review a tight internal logic and cohesiveness,
you should also discuss these elements in the order that you outlined
in the introduction. Such points of discussion might include the
non-technical (acting, directing) and/or the technical (lighting,
scenery, costumes) aspects of the production.
For each element that you discuss:
- Describe: In as brief and precise a manner
as possible, describe in detail the physical aspects of what you
saw performed. Keep in mind at all times that whatever you include
must in some way contribute to the assertion you made in your
introduction and thesis. Focus on particular scenes or performances
that will provide the evidence for your final evaluation of the
The tempest scene in Lear utilized
a particularly hostile set in order to universalize the suffering
depicted throughout the play. The lights were dimmed and the
backdrop was flat black. Against this backdrop were propped,
in no particular order, seven skulls that looked out over
the events to come.
(Note the vivid description of what was seen, and the use of
detail to convey that vividness. The passage will work nicely
as evidence for an overall, positive evaluation of the production.)
- Interpret, Analyze, Evaluate: This part of
the paper requires the most thought and organization and consequently
receives the most attention from your reader. After you have finished
describing important elements of the production, proceed to evaluate
For example, you would need to answer the following questions
regarding the last description of Lear:
- Why were the lights dimmed at the beginning of the scene?
(shock effect? slow unfolding of horror?)
- Why was the backdrop painted black? (contrast? mood?)
- Why was there no order to the skulls? Why seven? (emblem
of disorder or chaos? significance in number?)
In other words, assume that everything used in production has
significance, but don't panic if you cannot find "answers"
for all the questions raised by what you see in the production.
In the evaluation, you are given the opportunity to attack as
well as commend the performance; if the production fails to answer
questions that you feel need answers, then say so. If the question
or problems are relatively minor, ignore them. Don't quibble at
the expense of missing the more important concerns.
the Summary and Conclusion
Your conclusion should not merely recapitulate
your thesis in a mechanical way.
Rather, you should try to show why your response to the play is
valid and significant, based on what you have described in the body
of the paper.
Do not add any significant new material, but don't be afraid to
leave your reader with something to think about.