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When You Fall Down: The Buster Keaton Story review at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh – ‘thin musical treatment’

James Dangerfield as Buster Keaton at the Pleasance Courtyard

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.

 

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Verdict
Thin musical treatment of one of the great comedians of the silver screen

Production Information

Production
When You Fall Down: The Buster Keaton Story
Venue
Pleasance Courtyard
City
Edinburgh
Starts
August 1, 2018
Ends
August 27, 2018
Authors
James Dangerfield
Director
James Dangerfield
Musical director
Martyn Stringer
Technical
Helen Burdett (technical operator)
Cast includes
James Dangerfield
Producer
James Dangerfield
Running time
50mins