In January 1928, the famous film star Buster Keaton joined Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer Studios. This show imagines Keaton, in his famous suit and hat and with heavy monochrome face paint, introducing himself to his new colleagues - presenting a summary of his story thus far, by highlighting seven days when his life was changed.
Keaton had a very long and varied career, being one of the few stars of the silent cinema to continue working after the introduction of sound. However, he will always be remembered for his iconic comedic silent movies, which combined cutting edge special effects and slapstick. Writer and Performer James Dangerfield wisely focuses on this period of Keaton’s career for his chosen seven days.
The show is then split into segments focusing on the individual dates; each segment has a musical number and an acted-out scene. The songs were also written by the performer Dangerfield, and they are in the style of classic Broadway numbers. They are all well-performed; however, none of the songs stands out and they all blend together into an indistinct soundtrack.
The back wall of the stage is used as a screen on which relevant dates are displayed, along with clips from Keaton’s movies. Each display is accompanied by the sound of an old movie projector, which is a nice touch; the few props are also well-chosen and have been obviously carefully thought out. I enjoyed the use of colour dyes in the glasses providing a steady stream of different, brightly coloured drinks, though the humour seems a type of distraction to soften the reality of Keaton’s alcoholism.
After the seventh day, we see the iconic – and arguably most famous – clip of the house falling down around Keaton’s ears. It would have been a fitting finale, yet Dangerfield comes back onto the stage for a short scene, and sings a reprise of the first song. Next comes really long credit sequence projected onto the wall, before Dangerfield comes out for a bow. It wrecks the pacing of the whole performance and is, sadly, a complete anti-climax to end the show.
When You Fall Down: The Buster Keaton Story is an interesting if flawed production about one of the most iconic silent film stars. There are plenty of anecdotes and titbits about Keaton’s life that will keep aficionados happy, but this show is unlikely to create any new fans.