Punching Power out of the Story

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review tips
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First Identify – What type of story does the show use ?

There are 7 types of story

  • Overcoming the Monster.
  • Rags to Riches.
  • The Quest.
  • Voyage and Return.
  • Comedy.
  • Tragedy.
  • Rebirth.

Check through the programme, company online site or search engine to find out which of the above best describes what it is.

Then ask yourself  how is it done?   There are as many styles of delivery as there are theatre directors!  Contemporary, Traditional, Experimental, Purist are some of the takes the show may have.

Dig a bit deeper online to find out what genre you will be watching for example –  Elizabethan, Farce, Comedy, Absurd theatre, Murder Mystery, Passion Play, Musical, New Writing.

Look at photos of the production online to spot whether the story is told through a particular culture or location ?

Then put together a one sentence summary to the plot.

This story follows a typical (type of story) plot line done with a (name of style) style  and is a great example of the (name of genre) genre.

This gives you a basic description and the pointers below will help you a start to outline the plot in your review.

You can add more detail about the story telling with these ideas below –

There are two ends of the spectrum to describe story telling…

Some shows may flash back to the past by using moment set in the present.  Using devised techniques all time scales are possible.

Or the show can be a slow burner of a tale told in real time that may stretch over more than one night if it is an epic historical drama or about the birth of civilisation to the modern day!

Add a comment about the way the story is told

The story is told at a (rapid/slow) pace using (flashbacks/several performances/real time acting).

Sometimes the story is told through an object – the show title may point to this like ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’.  A piece of Art has been central to many shows like ‘Art’.  Music has been the main story line too in plays like ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’.

Use anything that is central to the play as describing the theme.

Modern shows can be based around one single emotion or one type of experience like grief or loss.

Decide on which theme you wish to explain and jot down a sentence that starts –

The action is based around (object/music/type of emotion).

You are telling the reader what their ticket price is paying for in terms of drama and it is likely you can grab this detail from the website or a copy of the programme or if it is a classic play a version of it will be online.

If the show has a more traditional format follow the journey of the hero in the story.

Telling the story from the hero’s point of view can add a fresh angle to your review.

Try this Activity to tell the story through the character –

Step into the shoes of the hero.  How did they get through they eye of the needle?

What challenge did they come through?

Describe the steps of the hero took to get to the end goal.

What was the prize at the end?

Why is the hero such a unique character?

What roadblocks did the central character get past?

What results did the hero help others achieve?

With the above info add this sentence to your review –

Now answer this question as another sentence to add to your review

The hero is such a unique character because…

Next expand on the type of adventure or outline

Fight against (force for bad) the unlikely hero wins by (victory he achieve) and discovers (what is learnt in the process)

This shines a light on (modern event or happening)

Many plays have a strong agenda and political message.

Do not hold back on presenting the power of the work.

You can also share what makes you passionate about this cause.  Why do you stand up for this cause?

Open up deeper to the subtext or conditions around the revelation why this is important to the reader.

It may be that talking about the characters inner journey is a better fit for the play and this would let the reader tap into ideas about what we would do in this situation.

If this is the case these questions can help –

What held the hero back and what did s/he fight to overcome?

The actions of the hero means (what) for the other characters ?

What were the problems the other characters faced before the hero acted ?

What changes as a result of the heros actions?

Jot down a few notes to express the power of the story to the reader.

Notice how reading it back makes you feel.  Does it sound like the show you saw?

Find your own way to explain the story to your reader so they can quickly grasp if the pace of the show is for them.

Picking out four sentences one from each of the sections above gives a great overview.

It’s important to tell your readers enough about the story so they can judge if a show will take them somewhere they want to go.

If they have had a busy day they may just want an easy farcical comedy or they may want to finish a lazy Sunday with a challenging historical drama.

It’s no secret the that story has a way of taking you somewhere new and feeling a certain way by pulling on our own connections.  Personal stories can hit a nerve so you are also guiding them away from a bad night out.

So here is the moment to tell your reader what happened.

They may not want to experience through someone else’s eyes a particular traumatic event and may want to go to celebrate and event that means a lot to their family like a military battle.

Remember (as always) your take is as valid as anyone else’s – you just need to be authentic, open and consistent.

One tip is not to send out mixed messages about something.  Where possible only describe the things that you have a clear opinion of something (even if the choice is the value is luke warm).  Try to group the positive aspects together so it gives the reader an easy read and the article has a good flow.




Hook a Hot Headline

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The questions you hear being asked at the ticket desk can be useful to point our what your readers need to know.

It’s good to know what are the problems the theatre goers have that you could be solved in your review –  for example

Are there special transport links if the show is off site?

Is there an adult rated content because of nudity or swearing?

Is there a special arrangement for access for wheelchairs because of a change in the set?


If you go to the Box Office in person listen in to what the audience wants so you know what people are interested in.

Keep an ideas book with you or your phone ready to note down key words fast.

If you are not near enough to the theatre to go in person ask friends and family what would their obstacles be to seeing a show you are reviewing.  Alternatively check through social media accounts for the theatre and visiting company to see if there is any special facts that are useful to know .

Get ready for your ideas to erupt when you think about your audience frequently!

Using the insights you have gathered above to pick out a headline or opening line that best fits their need.

Here are some examples –

  • Stop [undesired result – sitting on the sofa]
  • There’s Big [desired result – laughs] In [this play]
  • How to turn [magic beans] into [a giant beanstalk]
  • Get Rid of [problem – boredom] Once and For All
  • Never Suffer From [undesired result – a boring evening] Again
  • The Quickest & Easiest Way To [desired result like make yourself laugh] is to see this show
  • This Story Shows How Easily You Can [have world peace if a leader is strong]
  • Give Me [short time period] and I’ll Give You [3 reasons to see this show]
  • How [name of character] Got [result of the play] Without [undesired result] is unbelievable and this show tells us how!
  • To People That Want To [desired result – cry out their inner feelings] But Can’t Get Started – see this show

The Theatre may offer tours of the building and let you know about talks from the company performing on stage.

Later on in the book there are questions to ask should you go to a show related event that will give you more to write about in your review.

Keep expanding on the enjoyment that is out there for the reader so you will be the authority they return to.  For this to work don’t exaggerate your claims!

It’s super fun when you know what people are interested in although one of the things people get narked about is a show being very different to how it was billed.

After all, you could argue that no show is bad it’s just not what the viewer wanted to see at the time.

Nothing worse being sat in the middle of a retelling of ‘War and Peace’ when you wanted something short fluffy and cheery.

One of the problems with show titles is they don’t always tell you what the show is about or what feelings the show will pull out.

The publicity poster doesn’t always help.

I once saw a brilliant military drama called ‘Topless Mum’ that used a mild porno shot as the publicity photo. The show was well written had good production values and a great cast. It could have reached more people if you knew this was something you could go and see quite comfortably  with your mum. It had an amazing twist and the end and no seedy content as the title had pointed to.  In short, it deserved to pull a bigger crowd and an honest review would help!

By telling people that the show is worth their attention or giving them enough of the right info they can make their choice is important.

Our resources are precious –  time money and attention and emotion are some of things we don’t get back.

This is why we outline the story of the show.

And that’s what we will do next.

Just get the opening line for review written now and then flick the page.




Calling the Box Office

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review tips

There are many things you can discover from a simple phone call to the theatre box office that will be invaluable to your reader.

They will remember you for getting them off the sofa and having a fun time with others!

You are taking the time to lay the foundations for their great night out by showing them information they would not otherwise have the chance to find out if they are making a last minute decision of what to do.

Help your readers connect to their best night out by asking the ticket office –

What is the running time of the show ?

Does the show have an interval ?  If so.. how many ?

What are the cheapest tickets ?

How much do the premium seats cost and what is the benefit of these (free drink or play text for example) ?

During which dates is the show in the theatre for ?

Who is the star or main attraction of the show ?

Has there been any change to the cast due to unforeseen circumstances ?


Using your answers to the above – craft your first opening paragraph on your Word doc or Evernote –

(name of show) is at (name of theatre) during (dates) and for only (cheapest tickets) you can see (main star) appear/dance/sing/shine  in this (length of show) performance


Follow your writing impulse and find your tribe

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review tips

I know that feeling.

You laugh at the wrong line in a movie, you don’t understand the ‘in’ joke or get sad watching comedians.  It’s bad enough when it’s just you and your friends but when you’re in a room full of people you don’t know that’s tough!

When trying something new, people don’t like to be shown up to be different in public.

Of course.  I know I don’t.

You are their guide.  You are the one saying, you know what, I didn’t get the ending but I enjoyed watching it  – and an honest luke warm review is no bad thing.  Here’s why –

In every theatre there are good times to be had for cheap and in some cases for free; and every time a curtain goes up on an unfilled seat a chance to change someone’s perspective on life is lost.

The chance to even make someone smile for an hour or two is also gone.

Your Theatre needs you!

(Not in a WW2 way.)

But maybe in the way that your readers need to know a bit more about a show before buying a ticket and turning up kind of way.

Sometimes people just don’t know about where new venues are or when local outdoor events start.  Fresh new voices reviewing things start new streams of possibility for everyone.  Festivals, for example, are a great way to bring people to see brand new work in a safe environment and super way to test out your reviewing skills.

As more people join a tribe that speaks directly to them and follow your encouragement to try something for the first time your own audience grows.

We live in an unprecedented time when there are few barriers to putting on a show.  Live video streaming has theatre companies performing live work across the nation.  Arts is no longer exclusive and everything is possible.  Amateur groups produce challenging contemporary work beyond the safe musicals they were known for.  Students stage epic Greek dramas with casts of nearly 100 that a professional theatre could never find the budget to tour theatres with.

So now is the time to grasp that impulse you have when you feel so strongly about a piece of entertainment, like a TV show, Summer Festival, Circus Act, Street Busker, Indy Band that you have to tell people about it yesterday because it has ignited something in you.

The reason I share these tips is that I used to spend hours writing reviews.  I have written over 200 so far.  I do it because I love it and I have gotten quicker at it.  I was a slow learner and got a system down so I want to share all the smooth techniques I have had to find when I saw an amazing show.

I saw ‘Remor’ at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012.  It was 11 minutes long and performed in a box that only seated a handful of people.  With the best will in the world the word of mouth was limited and I wasn’t sure how this amazing piece of installation theatre from Spain was going to reach the people it needed to.  I got a review out on line that explained why it was essential viewing on the first day of the 3 week festival.

‘Remor’ is a fine show and went on to win accolades at the festival it completely deserved.  I was happy to bring this to people’s attention on the first night of the fringe and received a massive peak in website traffic.

This might not happen everyday but when it does you will be ready to fly and cause a stir with your passion and a storm with your words.

So where will  your reviews take your audience?

Personally I want more people in the theatre/open air auditorium/mall because that’s the good thing theatre now happens everywhere.

After all Rowena Cade built a theatre out of stone in a rural Cornish village and that is doing great business.  A great place to watch Whales go by as you watch a play with a the Atlantic Coast as a back drop from your seat on a cliff top.  Your words can be the reason someone experiences awesomeness for themselves.

That’s the impulse of your review inspiring your reader.

Hopefully getting people off the sofa and into the theatre is your thing. This is arguably more important than ever now we all need more community in our lives.  Human connection is hard to find in our fast lives.

If that’s not something you feel.. this is not your book.  Sorry.

Whatever your politics, wherever you stand on arts funding or mainstream comedy vs elite high tragedy one thing theatre folk tend to agree on is that community is a good thing.  It makes us feel safe, that we belong, that we can grow together,  that we can safely reveal who we are and be recognised for that.

Reviewing will make more things possible for you, your reader and the theatre and I’m all for that.

OK, so we knocked out a quick first review in the previous part (you didn’t?  pop back and bang that one out!) and we posted it onto facebook to get our inner momentum going and to hear our inner writer speak.

Now let’s make the necessary hitting of deadlines much more smooth, satisfying and even joyful.

The one thing this book cannot do is edit your review, nor should it try because your writing is unique to you.  Your review is 100% belonging to you and part of your soul.  My hope is that  there this is enough in these pages to make writing easy and enable you to succeed.

Let’s start the real deal.

Pick a show that speaks to you and call the box office.  And speak to them.  And there are great questions you can ask to get the first paragraph of your review done in seconds.

Turn the page and we’ll get the most out of that call together.


Find Your Authentic Voice

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review tips

Choosing what you write about will make it easy to write with passion.

Pick an event to write about that excites you.

To help yourself be at the heart of the latest information putting yourself at the centre of Theatre mailings.

It can be a good idea to open a separate email account and use this to sign up for all theatre newsletters and creative company’s mail outs so this does not clog up your personal email inbox.

This makes it easy to get to the first night of something.  Your review will be one of the first online and you can enjoy added traffic to your site or gain prominence as a reviewer this way.

It’s important to get the latest news from theatres so you can react quickly to their latest season of shows and be the first to cherry pick what works for you.

Choose the show title, image or story from your local theatre’s brochure, website and email newsletter that gives you the most tingles in your stomach.

What makes you feel energised to want to know more about the show?

Now imagine a good friend is sat next to you.  What would you say to them about the show?   What do you want them to know? What action do you want them to take?  Why should they take your word for it?  What would you advise them not to do?

Speak to this friend, using the information available and tell them of what they missed, and why they should see it.  Be sure to include answers to

What was it?

How was it done?

Where was it performed?

Why does it look like it is worth seeing?

or if it is not worth seeing .. Why do the performers/writers/artists feel this work was important to do?

(Maybe it is the centenary of the writer, a play to celebrate a national event or something traditional)

The flow that you hit in writing this small piece lets you hear your own voice.

Publish these responses on your blog or social media and announce to the world there will be more reviews to follow – watch this space! This a great way of getting friends to ask for the next update and this will give you momentum.

How does that make you feel?  Give it a colour/shape/sensation – so you can tap into this quickly when you write your next piece.

Tips on how to be relaxed when you write –

The more at ease you are when you write the deeper the work and more authentic it will be.

Be prepared for your fast plan to create reviews.

Candles, oils, walks, music, a favourite play list that inspires, an energy snack of seeds – get your success kit ready to hand so you are all set to go.  Inspiring pics of places, loved ones or heroes are also good.  A great selection of nice pens and pencils and spiral notebooks.

Be in touch with your inner self so you can find your truth and honest words to use.  They’re all there.  Get used to listening out for them.

Tap into your own way of getting calm and focussed and grounded your own way.

PS – If you have enjoyed this exercise you may like to do a regular ‘top theatre tips’ to your followers suggesting a great show they could try.


Meet the writer within you

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review tips

You already write.

Even if you don’t think so.

This quick writing exercise will nail let your writing start fast.

Think of the last time you explained to a colleague at the water cooler how great last night’s TV show was or raved on social media about what your friends missed when they skipped a trip to the movies.

Put yourself in that moment.

Write down what you said.

So yes of course you already write.

Even if you’re not published.

There are many ways to write which will get you to use a format that is useful and fast to produce.

Now is the time to channel that energy and passion and to share this with your read note down any key phrases that spring to mind from what you said at the water cooler.

Look back at the last texts you wrote to tell friends about a great time on your mobile and spot the words you use.

Try speaking out your review and film it to social media or just to your camera and then transcribe your words later.  This is a great way of capturing your feelings about a show.

Reviews can of course be videos or podcasts so this may be the way your roll.  You can link these audio clips to your website so people can find out the show details there.

To make a longer review try putting all your thoughts on post its or post cards and then rearrange on a pin board.

Computer programmes such as Evernote will link your thoughts across all your gadgets as they come to you until you have enough to rearrange into an article.

Give yourself 20 minutes of time while you cut and paste your words into a review.

You can find your best system of putting your random notes into good order by trying different ideas.

If you are tech savvy try using Scrivener for a way to rearrange your thoughts in bigger documents.






Theatre Reviewing .. What’s in it for me?

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review tips

There are a number of advantages to writing a theatre review not least what it can do for your own audience size!

Having your work retweeted by others who find a review useful means your audience grows.

Review writing slowly builds up an audience who rely on you.  They do not want to spend their time trawling the net for basic information you easily provide about running times and dates of a show they are interested in.

And readers who feel passionate about your view on theatre can make a post go viral.

By breaking down the barriers for people to discover new work you become the ‘go to’ source.  Other people will want to see the next hot thing you write about.

The gratitude people leave in the comments to your reviews is encouraging.

You may also enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling from the good you are doing your community.  After all a good review can help local shows pull bigger audiences to festivals and arts centres.

New theatre companies that have just started and are unknown to the public value extra publicity; they often quote your words on their posters.

This gives oxygen to your future as a theatre critic especially if you are just starting out.

As a reward for your hard work you typically get two free tickets, publicity material like programmes and hospitality drinks that vary with the generosity of the venue.

Want more good news?

Some of the highlights I have enjoyed as a theatre critic are the best seats at a sold out West End play with an international star that none of my pals could get tickets to see.  With opera seats starting at around £100 crafting a review can be more than worth the time it takes in return for two free tickets.

The chance to see something for free that you would not normally buy a ticket to is another advantage.  This lets you discover brand new shows you may come to love and not other wise have seen.

Remember theatre critics get the best seats in the house!

In order to offer the review to your audience you do NOT need to become an expert on what you are watching but you do need to do one thing.

That is – You need to be authentic.

Be honest and real in your responses to what you see.

It’s that simple.

However… sometimes it has taken me several hours to write a review.  Especially when I first started out.

So this book will give you the blue print to put your own opinions and experiences into a format that creates a good looking, useful and robust theatre review in not much time.  Because we are all busy.

How you publish your review is up to you and ideas on how to do that are shared later in the book.

The two basic options are on your own website or on a theatre review website.

The number of websites that accept submissions from ‘freelance’ reviewers is growing fast and listed halfway in the book.  Although it is rare to get paid for your review you will be able to treat a friend or colleague to share your rewards of two free tickets (or ‘comps’), theatre programmes and the interval drinks that are included sometimes.

A Garden Show with two intervals once treated me to cocktails on arrival with canapes, gin and tonic for the first interval, a beer for the second interval and an americano coffee before leaving.

If you get the chance to go to a Press Night you also get the chance to connect with people from the company, fellow reviewers and journalists who can often offer helpful tips on writing about theatre.

Alternatively you can post your review on your own blog and develop an Arts hub with a theme.

Posting reviews with clear hashtags in my experience creates a steady flow of traffic without you doing much to get it as people often google the title of their favourite shows.   My average is 1000 hits per review over a 6 month period without paying for traffic.

If a company is struggling to get people to see a new style of performance or simply love a review you have written their links to it may also boost traffic.

This route of publishing on your own site means you probably have to buy your own tickets but there is a way to get revenue.  Adding links to theatre ticket sales websites can offer a small commission to affiliates.

Advertising space can be sold to theatre companies to promote their show either on your site or in the newsletter .   It can be a good reason for folk to sign up to an email newsletter when you offer a steady stream of theatre reviews.


Hopefully this has got you excited to start putting your reviews out there, it’s never too late and it’s certainly never too early to publish your views however you plan to do it!

This book shows you how in step by step fashion.

PS The reason it is important to get your review out there fast is so you can be the first to be found when someone searches for a review on the show they are interested in.

Even if a show is touring, there will always be a first performance in your region or in your theatre.  Go for the part of the performance that is a ‘premier’ or a ‘first’ and you have a unique selling point.  Look for something that only you are seeing for the first time and relay this to your reader as an exclusive!

See you on the next page when we pin point what you want to review.

Quick way to add value to your fast review

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review tips
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Ever checked on line for some information you could not find?

Frustrating isn’t it?

Just think how useful it would be to know who the lead actor is in the play your co worker raved about before you bought tickets?

Even more useful is knowing practical tips like how long does the show last so you can book your ride home and plan ahead.

These facts are easy to note after you have seen a show yourself.

And think how valuable they are to someone one step behind you in theatre going.

Share your riches!

Write down all the things that would have been handy to know in advance before you paid a weeks wages to get your family or friends or loved ones tickets for the main event.

Answer these for the next show you have seen and you got your review.


Review Tips 1

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review tips
coffee chocolate review

When delivering your verdict of a performance in a review – here are three reference points for making your judgement.

The career of an artist (writer, actor or director/producer/designer)

The position of this work in a genre (an early style or late progression, reinterpretation or adaptation)

The timing of the message of the show in the timeline of a society (is it old hat – is it something people have heard before?)