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Playwrite   ::   Dramaturgy   ::   Write   ::   Sample   ::   Activities

How to Write a Play Critique

“Whether the critic is good or bad
doesn’t depend on his opinions,
but on the reasons he can offer
for those opinions.”
(Harold Clurman, Director/Critic)


Theatre criticism evaluates, describes, or analyzes a performance’s merits and a production’s effectiveness. The critic traditionally asks three basic questions borrowed from German playwright and critic Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

What is the playwright trying to do?

How well has he or she done it?

Was it worth doing?

The first question concedes the playwright’s creative freedom to express ideas and events within the theatre. The second question assumes that the critic is familiar with the playwright and the forms and techniques of the playwright’s time. The third question demands a sense of production values and a general knowledge of theatre.

Descriptive criticism describes the production: who is in it, what takes place during the performance, and what theatre artists are “behind the scenes.” For the most part, descriptive criticism offers no judgment, but simply a record of the theatre event. This type of criticism amounts to what is normally referred to as a “review.” This is not the type of critique which will be acceptable for this course.

Evaluative Cricism, which is the type acceptable for critiques in this course, deals directly with our three basic questions and passes some type of value judgment on the production. Evaluative critics consider the performance from three viewpoints:

  1. First, they consider what the playwright was trying to do--the imaginative material, the concept, ideas and the themes.
  2. Second, they judge how well the performance accomplishes what the playwright has set out to do. Plot, character, setting, lighting, costume, acting, or directing may be considered, depending upon their relative contribution to the effectiveness of the production.
  3. Third, they answer the question, “Was it worth doing?” This answer is the most sensitive aspect of the critique. The critic is to use specific examples from the play to support his or her point of view.

Too often critiques run to the writer’s personal likes and dislikes—opinion without critical judgment. In an effort to avoid this “I liked it" or "I didn’t like it” approach, you are urged to define as exactly as possible the nature of the performance.

Writing the Critique:

Writing a play critique follows the same format that is used in other fields. A research paper, for instance, is structured very similarly. So learning to write a play critique is also learning how to write any other paper well. In writing a critique it is necessary first to identify the performance to be discussed. Second, commentary upon the play’s substance or central meaning(s) or themes informs the reader about the playwright’s special concern with human affairs. Third, the performance exposes the audience to an environment of significant stimuli. These stimuli can be described by answering questions relating to setting, costumes, lighting, acting, and stage business; discussing how the stimuli reinforced, clarified, or detracted from the substance or meaning(s) of the play.

The primary concern of the course is that you understand what theatre artists are attempting to convey to their audience and how these artists work together to convey these ideas. If you have an understanding of the content of the play and the point of view of the playwright and the director and can demonstrate your understanding in your critique, then you have a basis for appreciating the play. This does not necessarily mean you will like the play or agree with the playwright’s or director’s point of view. The major portion of your critique should be a discussion of the ideas of the production, with specific examples of how the various theatre artists helped or hindered these ideas.

Some aspects in a production can detract, muddy or go against the playwright’s intent. Poor, unfocused directing, bad acting or distracting scenery, costumes or lighting can pull a spectator out of a production. On the other hand, good directing, acting and costumes can enhance a production and provide interest and clarity. The response of the audience or patrons sitting near you can have a positive or negative on your response to a production. Last, you should discuss how the elements of the production contributed to the success or failure of the production.

Your critique should be three to four typed, double-spaced pages in length.

Include the night attended and your ticket stub. Each performance is a separate work of art.

Develop your ideas using specific examples from the production, but remember that we are not interested in a review. We do not care how good or how bad the acting was or how pretty the sets and costumes unless you feel that these elements relate--by virtue of their unusual success or failure--to the more important ideas you are discussing. Again, these elements should be discussed only in context of how they helped or hindered the ideas of the production.

Be clear. Do not allow poor mechanics or form to interfere with a good thought. Double check spelling, punctuation, and paragraph form. Good writing is organic; you cannot separate what you say from how you say it. Help is available at the Writing Lab here on campus, if needed, or at various USU Centers across the state. Grammar does make up a portion of your grade for this assignment.

Above all, try not to attend the peformance with a preconceived notion of what your topic will be. Any anxiety which disturbs your enjoyment of the production is contrary to the spirit of these assignments.

Critiques will be judged on the clear and concise way in which you state your main ideas, theme, thesis or purpose, and on the quality of the examples which you use in support of your stated theme or purpose.

Here is a formula you can follow for success:

  1. Your critique should probably begin with a thesis statement , most likely found in your introductory paragraph, which suggests to the reader where you intend to go with your examples. This thesis statement defines your point of view about the ideas, theme(s), or meaning(s) of the play and production.
  2. Your succeeding paragraphs should all relate directly to this thesis statement and support your point of view by giving examples from the production or play.
  3. These examples should include the various applicable efforts of the various artists that contribute to the theatrical experience: acting, directing, set and costume design, lights, sound, etc. and how these efforts helped or hindered in the conveying of the playwright’s ideas and themes, as you interpreted them in your thesis statement.
  4. You should have a conclusory paragraph that rounds out your ideas and perhaps adds additional insight in light of your previous discussion.

Again: thesis statement, specific examples that support your thesis statement, and a conclusion. These are guidelines for good writing that you will use throughout your higher education experience and throughout your life.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, October 07). Literary Arts of Theatre. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License