Writing a Theater Critique

What Is a Critique?

A critique is a thoughtful and fair accounting of what you saw and an insightful analysis of your own reaction to the play.

Who or What Can I Critique?

  1. Playwright and play: (Also see below)
  2. Direction: Look for pace, unity, and overall quality of the production.
  3. Acting: Who stood out? Which performance affected you the most and why? Separate the actor from the role.
  4. Design elements: How did they contribute to the production?
    1. Scenery: Sets and properties
    2. Costumes: Correct for the play? Correct for the character, place, and period?
    3. Lighting: Emphasis, color, movement, and mood.
    4. Music and/or sound: Correct for the play? Correct for the character, place, and period?

How Do I Critique?

Here are two approaches you can take. Each represents a different way to achieve the same goal:

Method 1

  1. Start with the play: Define the basic theme or idea. (e.g. “This play is about [greed, romance, politics, etc.]) If the play is a well-known classic, what new insight does this production present? If it is a new play, what, if anything makes it unique?
  2. Select and prioritize any or all of these subjects according to what you think is most important to the success and/or failure of the production:
    1. Acting
    2. Costumes
    3. Directing
    4. Lighting and Sound Effects
    5. Setting or Environment
    6. Stage Business (movement or spectacle)
    7. Other Significant Human Details
  3. Show how these elements affected the production. Keep in mind the following questions:
    1. What did the production try to do?
    2. How well was it done?
    3. Was it worth doing? Try to stick to what you saw and the impact it had on you. That is, try to articulate what you thought made the production a success or failure or whatever. Don’t dwell simply on whether or not you “liked” something; the big question is “why?”

Method 2

Answer the following ten questions. Your answers become the basis for your critique.

  1. What was the drama about?
  2. How did the author (playwright) choose to treat his subject?
  3. What acting performance(s) stood out in your opinion?
  4. What made the performance(s) stand out?
  5. What technical element(s) (scenery, costumes, lighting, special effects, music) contributed most to the production and why?
  6. What were the weaker parts of the production?
  7. To what degree did these weaker elements hurt or hinder the production?
  8. What was the strongest single element of the production?
  9. What was your overall reaction to the production?
  10. How does this production compare to others you have seen?

Some hints: 

  1. Read the play if it is available.
  2. Always read the program notes.
  3. Enjoy the play first. Don’t think about the critique until after you’ve had the experience.

Things that professional critics do:

  1. Frequently professional critics see the play twice, especially when the play is difficult to understand or they are not sure they understood what they saw.
  2. They read any reviews or articles about the production that may have been published so they can get other perspectives.
  3. They speak for themselves, regardless of what others may say, because others may not have the same tastes or sensibilities, or because they simply may be wrong.