Soho Theatre + Writers' Centre
Opened 6 December, 2004
(rewritten from viewing in Edinburgh, August 2004)

Soho has brought to London for a pre-Christmas run one of the prime eccentric delights of this summer's Edinburgh Fringe. The Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players are performing in the venue's normal comedy slot, and are happy to be laughed at, but they elicit a more complex and ambivalent range of responses than simple chuckles.

For those unsure what kind of act might be lurking behind such a name, the Edinburgh run's pre-show music put you in the right bizarrely hybrid territory: Sinatra's "New York, New York" followed by Radiohead's "Creep". Jason Trachtenburg, his wife and ten-year-old daughter on drums (who comes over somewhere between Meg White and Wednesday Addams) are a chatty, apple-pie American family who buy slide collections from car boot sales and deceased people's estate auctions, write songs about the images they find, then dress in bad '70s pop gear and perform their numbers to accompany the slides in question.

The show manages to be several things all at once. Transparently contrived, for a start: I'm sure the slideshow idea developed as a hook for the songwriting rather than vice versa. It's also endearingly shambolic: the three backchat in a private shorthand like any family, and their between-songs rearrangements and digressions make the informalities of the vintage Grateful Dead look like a well-oiled machine. "As we say in the slide business, let's focus," exhorts Jason at one point.

The songs themselves are bouncy lo-fi numbers that do exactly what they say on the packet, combining general thematic observations with specific references to individual slides as the images file past. It's amusing to see these slices of everyday kitsch Americana, and also some escaped corporate presentation material: the show's central six-song cycle is based on a set of McDonald's marketing slides, and somehow its bare arrangement contrives to sound at moments oddly like The Polyphonic Spree. But the Trachtenburgs' show also gives a curious, fascinating insight into the lives of people such as a pair of discreetly lesbian nurses, and supplies that ambivalent frisson of voyeurism that makes it both exciting and slightly uncomfortable. David Lynch would probably love them.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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