5 quick tips for writing a readable review


Hilton Als. Columbia University. The New Yorker. Theatre critic.

Hilton Als is an associate prof at Columbia University and a theatre critic at The New Yorker magazine. He’s really good. You should read this guy.


I’m looking for emerging critics who would be interested in helping me to cover the Vancouver Fringe Festival. If you’re interested in this gig—which will involve a little money, although not tons—please submit a sample review of between 200 and 600 words to colin@colinthomas.ca.

If you’re a member of a marginalized community, all the better. Let me know about that. Theatre criticism needs more diverse voices. PLEASE DO THIS BY MONDAY, AUGUST 13.

Here you go:


  1. Use your own voice.

Don’t be afraid to sound like yourself. The number one mistake that people make when they’re writing is that they think they have to put on some kind of “smart voice.” Screw that. You be you.

  1. Back up what you’re saying.

Whether or not you liked a show isn’t what makes a review interesting. What makes a review interesting is how well you can back up your analysis. Support your opinions with examples.

  1. Orient the reader.

The format I’m about to propose isn’t a straitjacket—you can wriggle out of it if you’re clever enough—but here’s a reliable template for a review: lede (one or two sentences in which you express your fundamental impression of the show, think of it as a snappy thesis statement), synopsis (make this quick), assessment (the bulk of the review), and conclusion.

  1. Hit the highlights.

When you’re watching a performance, stay alert to everything that’s happening—performances, design elements, your own reactions—but, when you’re writing your review, stick to your most important observations. When you remember the show, what details stick out? When you talk about it with friends, what elements do you mention? Write about those.

  1. Have respect and don’t pull punches.

It’s easy to be mean and funny—and people love to read that crap—but don’t write it; it’s cruel and unhelpful. Don’t be afraid to be frank, however. Lazy cheerleading—which is often born out of a fear of causing offence—helps no one. Support what you’re saying (see item 2). Offer sincere analysis. Don’t play favourites or pick on anybody. Stay open and be willing to learn from others. After all, your voice is only one part of the discussion.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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