When You Fall Down: The Buster Keaton Story review at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh – ‘thin musical treatment’
Buster Keaton’s life is practically synonymous with the birth of Hollywood. He was the child of a vaudeville double act performing stunts on stage, which stood him in good stead later in life. During the silent movie era, he was one of the highest-grossing stars of the new medium and, despite personal hardship, maintained a career that lasted into the 1960s.
James Dangerfield’s one-man musical introduces us to Keaton as he moves from independent production to MGM, where he was less able to enforce artistic control over his product. Through a series of musical numbers and via in-character narration, Dangerfield attempts to explore Keaton’s motivation and enduring spirit.
The problem is that both the songs and lyrics lack the entrepreneurial dynamism associated with those early cinematic pioneers. The recorded score seems strangely repetitive and while Dangerfield is a personable performer, his role is dramatically diminished by the inclusion of original footage of Keaton himself.
There are scenes exploring Keaton’s friendship with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Keaton’s ailing marriage to Natalie Talmadge, but there’s too little depth beyond the basic details. Although endorsed by the International Buster Keaton Society, Dangerfield’s musical is in dire need of properly constructed conflict and a much more varied score.