Reviewing reviews: The Tab gets meta

We’re making Cambridge reviews so much better

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Writing a review is difficult.

It is all too easy for a review to oversimplify a production by listing features in a series of binary judgements: set bad, lighting good, delivery bad, comic timing good. Too often, plays are split into tiny moments leaving an impression that is misleading at best and non-existent at worst.

Glasses good, pigtails bad

You cannot detail a two hour play in 500 words – and it’s just unnecessary. It drives me mad when I read a review that mentions every technical glitch, every fumbled line, every missed queue and sightline issue. And then use the final line to say it is an overall brilliant production and well worth watching. This is bad reviewing.

So how do we spice things up?

The rating system. We’ve started a new system aiming to give reviewers more freedom and range. It received so much positive feedback. It will be 100% – the same as TCS’s 10/10 or Varsity’s ***** – and will be like the university mark scheme.

This is to cut down on the number of five star reviews handed out because *** is perceived as bad. Why not look at it as a strong 2.1 then we can all be happy, while genuinely mediocre shows can sink back into the 50% bracket.

A grading system: the best idea since the creation of this acronym?


Once we set the rating, the review should follow on pretty easily. A review  awarding the show 90% (a *1st), but spend 80% of the review writing about the play’s faults, will fail to get its opinion across. Rather, the review should spend 90% of the article praising the show and the final 10% offering constructive criticism. Likewise, if a show is truly dreadful, earning a meagre 10%, the majority of the review should not be spent trying to placate those involved by detailing the brilliance of Servant No. 2’s costume.

Also, a good review should include the audience’s reaction. It is irresponsible to award a high rating to a show that you found hilarious but none else laughed at, or a low rating to a show that received a standing ovation.

Many people reading reviews are regularly involved in Cambridge theatre. But that won’t stop us criticising a poor production. That said, any critique must be thought-through, constructive and hold more weight than a first-night slip-up. These people know all the ins and outs of their production as well as the context of theatre at Cambridge, so a reviewer must do their homework and give the show the respect it deserves.

This is where the true stars live

There is no right or wrong way to write a review: it’s just an opinion. But there are pitfalls to be avoided. The key things are to do your research beforehand and keep a clear head when writing without getting bogged down in the detail. A good review may divide opinion but a great review can be appreciated by everyone, regardless of the rating it gives, for being well thought out, constructive and informative.

If you want to review this term or hate what we’re doing, get in touch at [email protected]