Please read some of our reviews below

Large as Life Focus Theatre Co.
The Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham 31st March 2007

Take your partners for the Mood Swing Waltz. While we’re there, check out the lentil soup and try taking plenty of deep breaths. In a refreshing departure from their usual greatest hits pastiches, Focus find themselves pacing round the maternity ward, courtesy of a new musical on the unlikely theme of childbirth. What might have been subtitled Five (Very Diverse) Couples and a Ms., Keith Strachan’s enjoyable romp steers a witty and honest course through the eventful business of bringing on baby.

Large as Life ticks all the prenatal boxes, from lah-di-dah Caro’s hilarious exercise class, to meditation sessions with lots of humming (Sorry, ‘umming), and the inevitable marital tensions that surface as the big day approaches. This is the kind of production that will strike resounding chords with anyone who has been through the process, mothers especially, as well as light the blue touch paper on the whole box of laughter fireworks. Sometimes tense, often touching and always heartening, this delightful creation comes alive in the hands of a highly versatile troupe who get plenty of opportunities to display their stage credentials.

Choose from any number of defining moments, but everything peaks in the Chorus Line-ish showstopper Ladies in Waiting and the excruciatingly funny Oh, The Pain! Oh, the joy; another masterpiece. Simon Lewis for BBC Radio Gloucestershire Theatre & Arts
The Sounds of the 70s Focus Theatre Co.
The Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham 3rd March 2006

Question: if it takes 7 people 2 hours to put on a splendid show and leave a packed auditorium howling for more, how can you get 5 people to do the same job 8 months later and for even longer? Answer: send for Focus. Smaller is still beautiful when this talented troupe are involved, as was abundantly clear when they returned to the Playhouse with a revamped presentation of their high-octane tribute to the 1970s. A few judicious alterations had been made to the original programme, but the impressive lighting display was the most striking addition, even if the little matter of spotlighting the soloists had been evidently overlooked. Images of Queen concerts sprang readily to mind, however, especially with the band now sharing the stage with the vocalists, whose ensemble singing and rejigged dance sequences remained as crisp, entertaining and amusing as before.

For all its consistency, there were some extra-delicious slabs of icing on top of this already tasty cake: YMCA fostered some inevitable audience participation, Sweet Transvestite from The Rocky Horror Show featured a performance of Dr. Frank N. Furter to die for, while Paul Newman’s sizzling guitar break lit up the Eagles’ classic Hotel California. Their hilarious interpretation of Amarillo has finally ended my aversion to this song. It’s a measure of the show’s strength that one wishes they could include more material, knowing it will be well staged, but the current selection more than satisfies. They may not have sung City Boy’s 5-7-0-5, but the maths still applied. Tonight the Fab 5 gave the 70s another 5-star makeover. Is there nothing this company cannot do? Simon Lewis for BBC Radio Gloucestershire Theatre & Arts
C’Mon Everybody, Let’s Party Focus Theatre
The Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham 1st October 2005

I’ll be honest, I’d already experienced a sizeable chunk of this show’s programme, as some gratuitous transplanting from previous productions had been carried out to flesh out this hugely enjoyable tribute to the 1950s and 1960s. When the bill of fare, however, includes re-runs of the closing medley of Free ‘n’ Easy, several lifts from Sounds of the 70s and Encore!, especially the glorious barnstormer The Rhythm of Life, there’s no need to grumble. Like an extra helping of smoked salmon, it’s no less enjoyable the second time round.

Tastefully costumed, though with one solitary pair of blue suede shoes between them, Focus unleashed another litany of vintage hits and show songs - the spectre of the West End forever hovers in the air when these guys take the stage - invoking the spirits of Elvis, Ol’ Blue Eyes and Bill Haley in considerable measure. With good reason: fifty years after the event, All Shook Up and Rock Around The Clock still get the feet tapping, and the readiness of more recent generations to appreciate and perform such songs is a testament to their eternal appeal.

Repackaged in the engaging style that constitutes Focus’ principal hallmarks, i.e. crisply choreographed and sung with panache at a relentless pace, these trailblazing hits are assured of immortality, and will endure long after the Fame Academy has-beens and their featureless repetoires have sunk without trace. Dancing with almost regimental precision and singing with a richness that puts many bog-standard amateur groups firmly in their place, this talented troupe maintained the momentum throughout another highly entertaining evening of pure nostalgia. There were the usual sublime guitar riffs (She’s Not There), powerful solo and duet work (Strangers in the Night, Ticket to Ride and Love Me Tender), with some equally welcome humour, courtesy of a hilarious performance of Wild Thing.

The girls gave it plenty during Big Spender and These Boots Are Made For Walking, and the tight ensemble work was again in fine fettle (All I Have To Do Is Dream and Bridge Over Troubled Water). So polished is the finished article, that one is almost reduced to nitpicking: was so-and-so’s arm at precisely at the same angle as the one alongside it, and could there perhaps be a tad more imagination and movement during some of the instrumental sequences and segues? But away with such pedantic observation.

Should anyone ask you who does what at the Playhouse, once you’ve reeled off the diverse societies who do operetta, straight drama, pantomimes, modern musicals and the Savoy operas, be ready if you are asked “What about popular hits and top quality, feel-good shows?” Just say “Focus Theatre”. Simon Lewis, BBC Radio Gloucestershire
The Sounds of the 70s Focus Theatre Co.
The Playhouse Theatre, Cheltenham 2nd July 2005

Remember the days, thirty-odd years ago, when going to a disco meant not only enjoying a good bop but also singing along to the record, even if it involved that embarrassing dance sequence to Tiger Feet? Those glorious years still cast their shadow, and, on a day when Live 8 cast huge ones across the planet, I left the video recording the last hours of the Hyde Park concert and headed for the Cheltenham Playhouse to savour some of the gems from this greatest of musical eras, and served up by the richly talented Focus Theatre Company. Sartorially dysfunctional though they were, the 1970s were popular music’s Golden Age, when songwriters wrote powerful and passionate anthems, not some banal monotone mantra delivered to the strains of an equally tedious bass line. Focus did a splendid job of recalling how unforgettable a time it was, with glitter balls, tasteful lighting, suffocating clouds of dry ice and more than a few amusing poses and costumes in considerable abundance.

A barnstorming performance of Gloria Gaynor’s trumpet call I Will Survive alone proved why so many 70s treasures continue to do precisely that. Perched on glittery platform boots, over which hung appropriately gross flares, topped off with billowing silk blouses and some highly suspect wigs, Focus stomped their way through a whistlestop tour of the decade’s greatest hits, though it was clear where their true preferences lay, as a dazzling kaleidoscope of soul, easy listening, reggae and funk alternated with liberal doses of Fleetwood Mac, Queen and The Bee Gees, all bolstered by a few items from their Encore! set of two weeks earlier (The Rhythm of Life, I’m A Song, Sing Me, with Bohemian Rhapsody spectacularly ringing down the final curtain). The second half starter One from A Chorus Line amply demonstrated their flair for show songs. I wasn’t joking when I said they could play the West End.

Their winning combination of judiciously edited songs strung together in brisk sequence, comprising delicate, moving solos (Goodbye To Love, Without You) and stirring ensemble work (The Chain, Kung Fu Fighting), ensures that no trick is missed. An acappella performance of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, in particular, showcased their vocal dexterities, while a timely injection of humour ensured that yet another hearing of Amarillo did not, for once, foster a desire to commit murder. As the nostalgia factor got higher, the guitar work slicker and the outfits worse, the star quality dipped only once, during a dismally unimaginative presentation of Rivers of Babylon.

Classy renditions of Hotel California and Close To You reclaimed the lost ground, before an inevitable Abba medley rounded off the evening. (A 70s tribute without Dancing Queen? My, my!) Aficionados of 1960s music will be delighted to learn that this is Focus’ next major project. Meanwhile, set course for the Tuckwell Amphitheatre, Dean Close School, Cheltenham on Saturday 23rd July, when a few famous Disney songs, amongst others, will be granted a workout. Our town is indeed blessed on the theatre and arts front, and Focus are the latest diamond to grace its jewel-encrusted crown.
Our resident reviewer Simon Lewis was at the Playhouse Theatre in Cheltenham to see Encore! performed by the Focus Theatre Company on 19th June 2005

“Just what we need” I thought, when I saw the advert. “Another bunch of Fame Academy types who think that all they have to do is perform some well-known songs in the hope of convincing the world they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and good enough to play the West End.”

Except that the supremely gifted individuals who make up the Focus Theatre Co. are precisely that. My first encounter with this troupe ensured that any premature reservations were swiftly consigned to oblivion, once this appetising cocktail of 20th century favourites kicked in and swept me along on a rollercoaster of musical delights that maintained its infectious appeal over two glittering hours.

"A rollercoaster of musical delights that maintained its infectious appeal over two glittering hours..."

Tight vocal strains
Nostalgia knows no bounds. Whether it’s 1940s rhythm, legendary rock anthems or Cole Porter’s finest, mixed in with some Gershwin and topped off with the tight vocal strains of the Beach Boys, the gang’s all here and will thoroughly entertain all generations.

Despite the distracting presence of radio mikes resembling displaced hatpins, there was plenty to savour as the seven vocalists and their accomplished band cut a triumphant swathe through a scintillating anthology of song from across the decades. An exquisitely harmonious balance of voices, slick choreography and tasteful lighting all made for an upbeat pageant of musical reminiscences, interspersed with a few comedy sketches, notably those made famous by Rowan Atkinson and Victoria Wood, the latter being equally well represented by a rip-roaring rendition of her hilarious duet Let’s Do It.

Feel-good factor

Focus ensured that the feel-good factor ran high throughout, although nothing quite showcased their collective versatility like their enthralling interpretation of The Rhythm of Life, along with an appropriately costumed sequence of foot-tapping Glenn Miller evergreens that closed the first half. Meanwhile, Paul Hughes’ sizzling guitar work lit up the Santana classic She’s Not There.

The second half opened with a sumptuous medley of Beatles songs that complemented a quite magnificent performance of Michelle earlier on. A seraphic arrangement of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence made the blood run cold, Hernando’s Hideaway added some Latin spice, and I’m A Song, Sing Me simply soared. The eternal tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes My Way usually raises a smile, but never more so than when someone with the silken vocals of Ben Clark does this oft-mistreated chestnut proper justice.

Acid test
Now, my all-time favourite band is Queen, so you can appreciate that I expect great things when Bohemian Rhapsody is listed as the finale. Unfortunately, having endured 30 years of inept imitations by talentless pretenders, expectation is still tinged with misgivings.
It remains the acid test for any aspiring vocal ensemble, and I had only previously heard two convincing performances of this masterpiece - by G4 and the cast of We Will Rock You. As clouds of dry ice wafted round the auditorium, I heard a third; a stunning rendition that brought this immensely enjoyable evening to a spectacular climax.

An uplifting night out, don’t panic if you feel you’ve missed something. Focus Theatre Co. are back at the Cheltenham Playhouse on Saturday 2nd July for what promises to be a glorious night of music from the 1970s – be there!
By Simon Lewis
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