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Review: Hudson and Halls

Sat 7 Nov 2015 In: Performance View at Wayback View at NDHA

Hudson and Halls Silo at the Herald Theatre, Auckland, November 5 - December 5. Directed by Kip Chapman Starring Todd Emerson, Chris Parker and Jackie van Beek In the mid-1970s television in this country underwent a revolution with the introduction of a second channel, TV2. It did not inherit the massive facilities of the original channel, TV One, nor the established audience. And its brief was to be different. So it had to improvise. TV2's producers cast about for formats, subjects and personalities that the more po-faced TV One had ignored. Telethons, a female(!) newsreader, chat shows and a cooking show fronted by two lovable, rogueish and camp presenters, Peter Hudson and David Halls. Energeric, chaotic and fey, they became New Zealand's first openly gay television celebrities. Though the gay thing was from memory airbrushed out of press releases it was clear to everyone they were a couple of poofs and the nation came to love them. They were the anti-Allison Holst. Holst was practical and down to earth. And modern day reality cooking formats are fake and pretentious. But Hudson and Halls unabashedly had a ball with cooking and hospitality. They were the perfect cooking show hosts. For a decade they threw back the booze, skidded their way through classic and often not terribly original recipes and entertained us. Informing viewers about cooking always seemed to be a secondary objective. And then they disappeared off overseas. A few years later it was revealed that Peter Hudson had died. Then just months later, distraught over the loss of his soul mate, David Halls took his own life. Last night at Auckland's Silo Theatre Hudson and Halls were brought to life for one final hurrah, a mythical last Christmas Special TV show. Drawing on the pair's over the top screen personas, not quite Graham Norton but for its day remarkably loose, improvised and in your face, the Silo Theatre team has produced a raucous, chaotic, farcical and and ultimately tender show. And, though it takes a little getting used to, it works well. Modifying the realities of TV production to suit the needs and conventions of live theatre, the Silo team draw us in to a 1970s/80s TV studio for which the compact and steeply raked Herald Theatre is perfect. Live studio audiences always were and still are just props, the performers and cameras take priority and most of the studio space. Kicking off with Jackie van Beek's high-energy performance as the over-earnest and overwrought studio manager, and assaulting the senses with modern '70s kitchen accessories (electric frypans, clunky food processors, electric knives!) and ingredients (butter, bacon, garlic, cheese!) and a lovingly re-imagined '70s set, the production draws us in completely. It's not real life, it's everything Hudson and Halls seemed to be and more, all squeezed in and pressure-cooked at high temperature. The format is energetic farce with nervous characters frantically coping with the unexpected and trying to keep a lid on it all. But underlying the farce, especially in the second act, is warmth, humanity and just a touch of pathos. There are surprises, funny and sad, there is a foil (the studio manager), there are laughs aplenty and little moments when your heart aches. On screen Hudson and Halls played to the strengths of their personalities. Halls was the firecracker entertainer, safer Hudson made sure there was something edible at the end of it all. So it is on stage. Todd Emerson as Peter Hudson is spot on from his first knowing glance. Intense, world-weary, as focused as sluicing back glass after glass of wine and spirits will allow, the master of the throw-away pithy barb and at once exasperated by and totally in love with his partner. Chris Parker as David Halls settled into the role progressively as the evening progressed. Halls was always the more flamboyantly camp of the pair and performing this in a farce setting can lead to going over the top. For the first twenty minutes or so there was too much reliance on stereotypically camp mannerisms but as things progressed Parker relaxed and let the personality of Halls emerge rather nicely. All comedy and especially farce needs a foil and van Beek is spot on as the character who is both their confidant and their target. The script follows the conventions of farce without seeming formulaic, the dynamics of personalities, relationships and situation change and change back again as the plot dictates and as the evening passes we warmed to, then embraced, this representation of two ground-breaking showmen who sauteed and swished their way into the hearts and living rooms of the nation. - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 7th November 2015    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Saturday, 7th November 2015 - 10:23am

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