First staged in 2004, Belvoir’s production of Page 8 – the autobiographical one-person show by David Page – toured the country and internationally for the next five years. Presented here by Bangarra Dance Theatre on its tenth anniversary, as part of Corroboree Sydney, the show is a collection of stories from the Page family’s rich goldseam of experiences, peppered with fragments of home videos, direct audience address, re-enactment, and song-and-dance numbers.
David Page, the eighth of twelve children, is a performer, musician and Bangarra’s composer-in-residence. As a teenager, he was signed to Atlantic Records and under the name Davey Page recorded and released a number of top-ten hits. After his voice broke, and following periods of hardship and self-discovery, he forged a career as an accomplished and award-winning musician, composer and performer.
While Page 8 is a one-person show, physically at least, it never feels that way (unlike Rupert, for which the opposite is true) – Page has conversations with members of his family, re-enacts incidents and stories, and revels in the rich theatricality of his family’s experiences across the play’s ninety or so minutes. While the show does seem to drag at times (no pun intended), it is simply because there is no easier way to cover a lot of the difficult and personal material other than telling the audience. A show like this can’t be filled wall-to-wall with music and dance, so there is a natural rhythm built into the show, a rhythm of life, of highs and lows – quiet intimate moments and ‘larger’ more vibrant ones sit side by side; while some of the stories could be seen as superfluous, they make the songs more special, a kind of ‘reward’ in a way, though that is not to disparage the stories. It is the songs – the musical numbers – which show Page at his most alive and allow him to shine. He is a natural performer, and you only need to look at the smile on his face as he sings along to any one of the half-dozen or so numbers to see how much music means to him.
I must confess I’ve never been terribly convinced by the dramatic potential of verbatim theatre or autobiographical theatre, but in the case of Page 8, the show is so much more than a one-person show about his life. What we get instead is the story of a family, brought together and torn apart by hardship and grief, but a family which never loses sight of what it means to be a family nor of each other’s place and role within that. Rather than a dramatic climax built up over the course of the piece, the stakes in Page 8 are simply David Page’s physical and mental wellbeing. We know he survives because he is in front of us, telling us these stories, but as in his life, the show is peppered with moments where he seems to teeter on the edge of a chasm which could very well envelop him. As a performer, he navigates these moments with his trademark charm and gentleness, sometimes glossing over them slightly, but it never makes them seem less significant than they are; we are still allowed to feel these moments, often profoundly.
The finale, when it comes, is well and truly deserved, but there’s a poignancy that runs throughout the show which not even the most exuberant and glittery musical number can truly mask. Described as a “love letter to our family, our history and our culture” by Page’s brother Stephen – the show’s director and Bangarra’s artistic director – it is about “courage, vulnerability, love, pain and loss.” It’s about family, remembering, identity, dreaming, never losing sight of what makes you feel alive, and coming home.
Theatre playlist: 80. Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, Davey Page