News: Do you fancy being our third reviewer?

East Midlands Theatre are now looking to expand by adding a third reviewer to our books. This role is a voluntary position, as are all the reviewers on our site. We are specifically seeking someone who lives in the Derby area or has a car and can cover shows at Derby Theatre plus other theatres in the East Midlands. A desire to cover shows intended for younger audiences would also be helpful but not vital to the application. We would also be interested to know if you have any dance experience and can write knowledgably about ballet or contemporary dance. A reviewer would typically receive two free tickets for the event they were reviewing on press night. Reliability is paramount.

To apply please send us your name and theatre background details and a recent review approximately 400 words on a Word document. We would suggest reading a few of our reviews to get a flavour of our house style. Send your review to us at eastmidlandstheatre@gmail.com by midnight Saturday 25th January 2020. Please include ‘new reviewer’ to the subject bar. The winning applicant will be notified by email on Monday 27th January 2020.

Good luck to all applicants.

I have included some helpful notes below.

Phil Lowe

How to write a theatre review

It’s important to have an interest in the subject and to have a basic background in theatre and/or A Levels or a Degree in the subject.

Having an interest in the subject includes not only looking at the programme notes from the free programme which comes with the reviewing opportunities but also looking online and doing some research, maybe reading the play beforehand and getting very familiar with the play. This will vary from show to show. If its a new piece of work obviously that make things a little more challenging but that can be part of the fun of actually writing the review. We won’t ever throw a new writer in at the deep end.

In most reviews for newspapers you are looking around four hundred, maybe five hundred words, which is not a huge amount. On a blog or our website  you can choose how much you wish to write. My own suggestion would be somewhere between four hundred and six hundred words and then you keep your audience’s attention within your writing. Any further than that and people are likely, with a short span of interest, to go off onto another thing that they are doing in their lives. Two hundred and fifty words is okay for a shorter play.

We think it is always important to read other reviews in  the major newspapers such as The Guardian, The Observer, The Times and The Stage. Should they be good, bad or indifferent, it’s always worth reading those to pick up ideas. But obviously please don’t go down the route of copying them or steal and re-word sections of them. We always do check.

This habit will help with getting ideas of phrasing or describing events if you are not used to describing things on the stage. At East Midlands Theatre we don’t think it is important to completely retell the story in the review. This is particularly so if there are surprises in the story. Nobody likes a spoiler especially the actors and production teams. It is always important to keep something back but equally, to give some element of excitement in the review, because, after all, the main intent of a review, in our opinion, is to actually encourage people to go to the theatre.

If you are writing something that’s a teasing way of expressing something about the play; perhaps how you felt about the story and the emotional impact it had on the audience plus the feelings they came away with, that’s a great start. In our experience there is always something to spark off your review writing. Furthermore, how it looked, how it sounded, the quality and the professionalism of the production – these are all important matters to consider in your writing too.

When writing a review it isn’t necessary to mention every single person in the production. Just imagine you were watching a production where there were thirty people in the production. It would be crazy to try and mention every single person and the review would become a mundane affair. It would end up as a listing of everyone and how wonderful they all were. In terms of focussing your review writing maybe consider the main performers, but also consider how an individual performance has made you feel – whether it amused or gave some deeper emotion to the play or whether it and its associated on-stage relationships helped the dramatic moments/scenes land. If appropriate, maybe include the director’s ideologies or technical viewpoints/style and how they have approached the play individually or in collaboration with other creatives. Sometimes a play can be performed quite traditionally and at other times contain a more a radical approach. These are all fascinating things in your life as a reviewer and worth considering.

In terms of writing the review there are many different ways to approach the actual reviewing experience. I (Phil Lowe) was taught some while ago by The Reviews Hub. Their habit of speaking from an immediate point of view, as if you are there, in the theatre now, watching the drama and not using the tense ‘I’ but rather say one or this reviewer feels that… I prefer this removed way of writing where the action appears to be unfolding in front of the reader, and not an event that has already passed by. So if someone is reading a ‘happening now’ review it becomes much more valid than a piece of theatrical journalism that speaks of a past event with phrases like ‘I went… the acting was… we thought that… what happened was…’ To me that has already lost the impetus of the review. That’s not to say that professional or amateur writers who write in that way are wrong. It is just a style I think works best for myself and our readers. We love reviews that hint at a bit of the reviewer’s personality and, when appropriate, make us smile.

Starring on EMT.

2 stars = production lacking in more than a few respects.

3 stars = good performance and better than a night in front of the telly.

4 stars = Very good production. No real flaws and definitely worth a visit.

5 stars. = A production that is absolutely faultless. Utterly winning and something that would stay with someone watching it for years. Unmissable.

When writing your review it is important to be as concise as you can. Also, its important not to be viciously critical about any of the actors or the director. What we are saying is, don’t make any personal nasty remarks. You may want to consider it important to look at how the play was acted, in what period and how that came across; whether you felt that the characters were fully rounded; how they interacted with each other and maybe if there was any political intent with a big or small p.

Highlight the play title clearly by writing in italics. Example Chicago. When mentioning the actors for example write John Smith (Malvolio) and after mentioning once just use Smith as name and not John. Even if you are attracted to John Smith and his brilliant acting style and devastating good looks you don’t actually know him. Be professional at all times.

All reviews are to be written on Microsoft Word and sent to me by email. Preferably by midday after the event. As the editor I will then check the review and add it to the EMT site along with any images and additional links and links to our Facebook page, YouTube site and Instagram. I will also add the review to our Facebook page and Twitter.

Phil Lowe

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