The trials and triumphs of the silent era’s greatest star Buster Keaton told for the first time as the musical When You Fall Down heads to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Through slapstick, songs and soft shoe shuffle, When You Fall Down follows the triumphs and trials of silent film star Buster Keaton as he makes his iconic movies. As the world whirls around him, with his marriage failing, his best friend on trial, his career in danger and turning to the bottle, Buster must hit his mark as he films the most dangerous stunt of all.
When You Fall Down is set in a silent era, but it has many themes that still resound today. The show deals with the 1921-22 trials of Buster’s best friend Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Hollywood’s first major scandal, with one of its biggest stars hauled onto the stand to answer charges of physical assault. The surrounding furore foreshadowed the MeToo movement by nearly a century. And we also see a battling Buster, fighting to keep his creative independence, his marriage alive and attempting to resist the call of the drinks cabinet. As the show culminates, and these pressures combine, Buster films the façade of a house collapsing around him; a one- take shot where any error would have fatal consequences. Buster’s stoic sensibility through life’s challenges, and perseverance in overcoming obstacles on and off the screen, make Keaton seem today the most modern and relevant of the silent movie stars.
Despite these serious themes, When You Fall Down is also full of humour, exuberance and joy. With re-creations of Buster’s tricks, mime and magic, it is an unprecedented tribute to “The Great Stone Face”; a man who always got back on his feet, no matter how many times he fell down. Suitable for families, keen Keaton fans and those who are completely new to silent movies!
This piece of new British writing is an exciting mixture of musical and physical theatre, written and performed by James Dangerfield, an actor and Buster Keaton fan who, much like his hero, has brought his vision to life single-handedly. In 2017 the show premiered in the US, for an approving audience including members of Buster’s own family.
The International Buster Keaton Society has also endorsed the show, which was the winner of its 2017 Scholar Award.