Review: Dubboo – Life of a Songman

Lynne Lancaster

Actor, artist, activist, songman – Dubboo is a shining tribute full of warmth and affection for a much loved complex man. A wonderful tribute to David Page.
Review: Dubboo – Life of a Songman

David Page; supplied.

At times quite highly emotional, Dubboo – Life of a Songman is a wonderful evocation and tribute to Roy David Page.

Dubboo (or ‘songman’), as Page was known to his close friends, was a major anchor in the life and works of Bangarra since 1991, where he worked closely with his brother Stephen Page, the artistic director, developing the idiosyncratic scores for 27 of Bangarra’s shows and his brother Russell.

Revamping the concept and creation of the soundtrack to include traditional Aboriginal language, song and instruments blended with the sounds of electronica, hip-hop, classical and the natural world, Page was also a singer, actor and vibrant drag artist. Sadly he passed away in April 2016.

Dubboo – Life of a Songman is split into two contrasting yet complementary halves. The first half concentrates on Page’s magnificent work for Bangarra while the second half, based more on his solo show Page 8, examines his alternative performing career from little Davy Page to drag queen Davina Cha Cha.

This show begins with a lyrical reflection on his uncle by his nephew Hunter Page-Lochard. Page’s career is followed at a smooth pace allowing the audience to revel in his and Bangarra’s many talents. The first act showcased the Bangarra dancers in various scenes from some of the company’s works, opening with the dancers weaving in lines on stage in earthy outfits, leaves in their hands, for ‘Sacred’ from Patyegarang (2014). It was a striking opening, appropriately featuring traditional dance. Live music on stage was provided by a string quartet Véronique Serret (Stephanie Zarka, Carl St Jacques and Paul Ghica) and singer/guitarist Brendon Boney (the current recipient of the David Page Music Fellowship).

Also included in the first half are scenes from Ochres (1994) with very demanding lifts and partnering, a slinky snippet from Fish (1997), Skin/Spear (2000) – the darkly disturbing drunk men in car sequence (Alcohol) followed by a shattering, intense tormented anguished solo by Beau Dean Riley Smith (Brother).

Also included in the first half is a moment from Lust from Brolga ( 2001) a hypnotic sinuous duo as danced by Waangenga Blanco and Tara Robertson and the mesmerising solo Feather from Bush (2003) as danced by Tara Gower, and all performed to the scores that Page created (with musical direction by Iain Grandage).

At the rear of the stage, on a large screen, fringed by a silver curtain, footage and stills from the productions were shown simultaneously. We also saw photographs throughout Pages’ life – with his family, friends and colleagues. There were also recordings of him in the studio meditating about his work and creativity: how he didn’t regard himself as a composer but rather as a songman, how he and Bangarra collaborated to create a bridge between traditional and urban Aboriginality, and how people like Djakapurra Munyarryun inspired him (and he them).

Munyarryun was on stage with the musicians, and sang several songs in Aboriginal language, while Ursula Yovich (also seen in video with Page discussing the creation of a new score), sang a deeply personal tribute to Page. (The powerful ‘When’ from the 1994 Nini). Archie Roach sang two powerful items from Skin/Spear, while Page’s own voice was heard sometimes in voiceover and on the tracks.

The second half – Dubboo - Songman – was performed on a raised circular stage. Page-Lochard donned drag and joined drag queen Miss Ellaneous (the drag alter ego of Ben Graetz) to open the second half.

Act 2 utalised Page’s autobiographical show Page 8, which he co-wrote with Louis Nowra, this part of the show was exuberant, boisterous and yet reflective. Scenes from it were interwoven so Page reveals much of his own life, from when his sisters dressed him up in their clothes when he was a child, to finding himself and coming out at age 15, to his work as a drag star.

On-screen footage traced Page’s own performance career, from baby photos to footage of him on television as Davy Page, (he performed on the Paul Hogan Show and the Mike Walsh Show among others) and we see stills and video from various films and stage plays in which he performed.

The Bangarra dancers recreated the Countdown Top Five on the week when Davy Page was top of the charts. The dancers were deliciously costumed by Jennifer Irwin and gyrated enthusiastically to assorted disco numbers while we saw Page in sizzling performance on screen.

There are also sizzling renditions of ‘Hey Big Spender’ (from Sweet Charity), segments from the Rocky Horror Show and an Andrews Sisters tribute. At one point towards the end there’s a section of screen footage where Page himself says goodbye on a radio microphone that in many ways felt like a natural conclusion – it could have gone straight from there into the final number ‘Proud Mary' (with Page exultantly performing on screen and all the Bangarra dancers in short gold frocks on stage) – but other sequences came before it.

Actor, artist, activist, songman – Dubboo is a shining tribute full of warmth and affection for a much loved complex man. A wonderful tribute to David Page.

4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
Dubboo – Life of a Songman 
Presented by Bangarra Dance Theatre and Carriageworks
Official recommendation 12+
6-8 December 2018
Carriageworks, Sydney

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.