Hudson and Halls LIVE peaked my interest during its first season in Auckland. So when the big banner went up on the Hannah Playhouse I was delighted to get a chance to see what the fuss is about later this week. My taste in theatre is very broad. I would probably have been satisfied with the hook of “people cook a meal and it’s funny.” I hadn’t realised there was a real Hudson and Halls in the 70’s and 80’s. I had a chat with Anya Tate Manning, one of the performers about the context I was missing.
If you go to the NZ On Screen Website you can find excerpts from the original Hudson and Halls original cooking show from the 80’s. Peter Hudson and David Halls brought cheeky banter and musical guests to the menu of its studio cooking shows. Upon being dumped after 10 years of New Zealand broadcast, the pair flew to the UK with two middle fingers behind them and landed with the BBC. Before their tragic deaths in the early nineties the couple had been broadcast across Europe, neither confirming or denying their relationship on an international scale.
During a chat with Anya Tate-Manning, one of the performers in Hudson and Halls LIVE, I discovered that as well as being energetic and robust, the show serves as a tribute to two men who silently became gay icons through their loud TV personas.
The play is a rendition of a Christmas Episode being filmed in front of a live studio audience, which is you. Over the phone Anya Tate-Manning describes the show and their process as a “robust, muscular exercise,” leaving the cast dripping in sweat by the end of their simulated broadcast. She describes the shows pace as a unique combination of wine, passion, cooking and live television. “Physically and mentally, you cannot relax inside the show.”
Rather than draining, she says this challenge is remarkably rewarding and describes her role of Niaree the Floor Manager as robust and skeletal. Taking over the role previously performed by Jackie van Beek, Anya says she “really had to be on the ball from the beginning” with a short rehearsal process to remount this frenetic work. Niaree has the job of corralling these two “charismatic and tempestuous” personalities.
When she describes the food fare prepared she divulges details of a cold cheese soup and a warm lettuce salad. Two things I assumed were joke food but are actual recipes designed by the original Hudson and Halls. This leads me to conclude that I may never fully understand the 70’s and 80’s.
When asked about the rehearsals she sighs and says, “it’s hard to keep a straight face.”While having her own comedy chops, she mentions her cast member’s upbeat wit and timing constantly surprise and delight. She mentions her partners uncompromising standard of quality, unsurprising considering the reputation of the performers.
Chris Parker, David Halls in this production, regularly appears on TV’s Funny Girls, as well as being a veteran of the live comedy stage with Snort in Auckland and shows at BATS such as Milky Bits and No More Dancing in the Good Room. He has taken over the internet with his series Stake Out and his podcast, The Male Gays.
Kip, the original writer and director of the show is known for pioneering innovative and immersive productions such as the iconic Apollo 13 which traveled from Wellington to tour America. He steps into the role of Hudson previously occupied by Todd Emerson, Kips husband in real life.
As desperate as we all are for gossip, Todd is simply busy with other projects and passed the Director's Hat to the capable and accomplished hands of Jennifer Ward Leeland. According to Anya, Kip warmly defies the writer/actor/director convention of rigidness, proving dynamic and flexibility with his concept through rehearsals. Another wasted gossip opportunity which the show will undoubtedly benefit from.
Anya herself is coming off a big year, performing in the New Zealand Arts Festival’s Devil Half Acre which I can’t tell you much about because it sold out. She went to Edinburgh this year, taking with her a suit of Admiral Ackbar for an Evening with Ackbar, a reference my generation won’t be trapped by, as well as the acclaimed Puppet Fiction which upon returning to Wellington drew an audience of 350 people to a museum. Back from the Devil’s Half Acre she is tying off the year with this festive production.
This homage to the original Hudson and Halls has one key difference to the original, as both roles are performed by men in the entertainment industry who are openly gay. Hudson and Halls never publicly revealed their relationship. As a queer entertainer myself I had never thought this aspect to be detrimental to my career 30 years later a sobering indicator of how far New Zealand’s come in terms of accepting people’s sexualties. Something I will be celebrating when I see the performance.
Hudson and Halls LIVE will be showing from the 15th of November to the 10th of December at the Hannah Playhouse.