With bubbles and Bellinis being frequent additions to the hands of those attending the performance, we were alerted by Anya Tate-Manning’s Ngaire, the floor manager, that the live studio recording of Hudson & Halls will be starting shortly and to begin making our way to our seats. Hudson & Halls LIVE! is a show running under the guise that the seminal cookery show will be doing a special live recording for their Christmas special and we are their grateful studio audience. I loved that the performance began in the lobby and really sold this idea to us and this inclusivity continued throughout the show, even half time being incorporated into the story which was amusing and very fun.
This aspect was brilliant on the part of writers Kip Chapman, Todd Emerson and Sophie Roberts. The ‘we’re all in this together’ sense of camaraderie written into the show was a quality that was immensely enjoyable. With the cast being aware of us being their audience, it allowed for lots of eye contact and little side jokes given out directly to us, making the performance even more delightful. I was asked by an effervescent Halls, played by Chris Parker, what I was drinking and was told in a teasing tone of light concern that my Panhead Supercharger beer sounded ‘terribly masculine’.
The tightness of the dialogue and direction of the show is exquisitely executed by Kip Chapman, who not only wrote the show, but also directed and starred in it as the role of Hudson. It is a truly amazing accomplishment to have things going wrong on purpose in a way that felt so natural that I hold my face often, giving several audible exclamations of ‘Oh no!’. Hudson & Halls LIVE! is fast-paced, and the stage is often so active I have trouble to keep up with everything that is going on. This just adds to the feeling of reality that this show produces. The script is witty and takes the time to add all the little arrangements of emotion that can span a three-minute conversation. Frustration, kindness, love, annoyance, sadness, awkwardness, and laughter are just some of the myriad expressions that occur in the interactions between the characters. But really, Chapman makes Hudson, Halls and Ngaire not feel like characters, they are people, I feel like I’m watching something real, not rendered. The invisible wall of awareness that comes with theatre productions, particularly when you are in the mindset of critiquing them, melted away with Hudson & Halls LIVE! I must (ashamedly) admit that I stop taking notes and just leave little foolscap messages for myself because I do not wish to break away from the total immersion of the show.
The show details are nostalgic and speckled all over with pieces reminiscent of Kiwi homes in the 70s and 80s. Daniel Williams, Elizabeth Whiting and Sean Lynch all did an excellent job at curating such a fabulous set. I spotted pieces of Temuka pottery that were ubiquitous of that era, the little knickknacks that clutter the display shelves in the background remind me so much of my Nana’s house that I felt rather emotional as it seemed so familiar and welcoming. The television-sized microwave was exactly the same model my family had growing up and I giggle ridiculously when the machine refused to work during the show as ours used to that too. These pieces aren’t just there for decoration, but are incorporated into the performance, such as the dolphin ornament being referred to as Opo, famous at the time the production is set and Halls relating an enthusiastic story to us of how Hudson simply can’t just walk past these adornments when they go shopping in Parnell. It is brilliant that everything in the show feels active and alive, even the stationary objects.
Speaking of Parker’s adaptation of Halls, he is astonishing in how entertaining and charming he makes his character. His theatrical affectations were lovingly rendered so that he never became a caricature. His loud extravagance of voice, gestures and presence countered Chapman’s Hudson and his more reserved nature beautifully. From the moment he arrived on stage (to our rapturous applause) he had us eating out his hand, or, as he would prefer it, drinking out of his champagne flute. Chapman’s Hudson matched Parker in terms of his portrayal, being more serious, but bringing a dry wit often accompanied by a drawling, sardonic tone that is so enjoyable and his detailed mannerisms are incredible. Readjusting his glasses with the palm of his hand will be particularly memorable and his forced cheesy grin as he goes past the imaginary cameras never fails to make me laugh.
The hilarity of Hudson & Halls LIVE! means that the serious moments create an emergency handbrake effect and the first instance that this occurs coming off a flippant comment, stops the show in an elongated pause that causes such stillness and silence that I actually begin tearing up. There are few moments that can ever be counted as perfect, but this is one of them. The reaction is flawless and so many things are conveyed with so little movement. Just the array of regret and awkwardness, sympathy and pleading that dances across Ngaire’s face and the set of Hudson’s shoulders while he has his back turned to us saying more than any dialogue could. Times like this that give way from the glitz and frivolity are striking to behold.
Even within the fun and hilarity of when the show goes back to its charged-up energy, I couldn’t help clutching my chest when small moments of tenderness creep in between Hudson and Halls. While the two are constantly berating each other and squabbling during the different cooking segments, the touches of care and devotion are moving and poignant in anchoring the reason these two gentlemen deserve to be celebrated.
Anya Tate-Manning’s character of the floor manager, Ngaire also deserves attention. She instilled a deer-in-the-headlights quality to her performance and her wide eyes often silently pleaded with us to be a good audience and make her job as easy as possible. There were a few fumbles over some lines, but it added to the nervous and near desperation her character was dealing with which only enhanced her charm.
The acting being the highlight of the show, the audience give a well-deserved standing ovation at its finish with much clapping and whooping. There is a sense of unbridled positivity and satisfaction from such a wonderful performance by all involved. As I leave I feel such a joy and elation and my cheeks hurt by how powerless I am to stop the grin that has yet to leave my face.
I hope this show does a national tour at some point since the mere mention of my doing this review to my family in the South Island sparked an elongated conversation in them with friends about their favourite episodes and particular moments that occurred from the original series. With the show maintaining an excellence in line with international West End and Broadway shows I have had occasion to experience, it would be great if even more people can indulge their admiration of the originals by seeing Hudson & Halls LIVE! Even without prior knowledge of them, it is vastly entertaining and well worth seeing, and I am hoping to go to it at least once more before its run in Wellington ends.
Hudson & Halls LIVE! is playing at Hannah’s Playhouse from 16th November – 10th December. Tickets can be bought from www.ticketek.co.nz