A Simple Dish [by Matt Baker]
Before the plethora of cooking shows both at home and overseas, there was Peter Hudson and David Halls. Commissioned by Silo Theatre, Hudson & Halls Live! is the fictional account of New Zealand’s best cooking duo, two men whose love of cooking, entertaining, laughing, living, and most importantly, each other, introduced an entire nation to the idea of accepting their own foibles, and humanity.
Todd Emerson gives an incredibly understated and resonant performance; with nothing more than a moment of sustained silence, a grimaced smile, or a glare of the eyes over his glasses, we see the moments of worry and pain that underlies the straight man in this comedic duo. Chris Parker is perfectly-cast as the Corbett to Emerson’s Barker, but is his moments of quiet and restraint that truly punctuate the comedy. His portrayal is inarguably accurate, but David Halls’ television persona is not the same as David Halls the theatrical character, and the latter is lacking in dimension on the page. There is a moment of cohesion illustrated between the couple, as they describe Watkins’ eye colour, but beyond this there is little of their love that has been described by their contemporaries from the aptly named documentary Hudson and Halls – A Love Story in this show.
Daniel Williams’ set is a more or less authentic replica of that from the original show, and, in addition to Elizabeth Whiting’s costume design it is nostalgia at its best. Throw in the obligatory remarks about David Lange, Keri Hulme, and Telethon, and the transportation back to 1986 is as heart-warming as the memories are found. That doesn’t mean those who never saw the show on which this production was derived will miss anything, as Emerson and Parker will no doubt introduce an entire generation to Hudson and Halls, and perhaps reintroduce another.
Peter Hudson and David Halls had a personal dynamism and theatrical flair which, in 1975, New Zealand television had not yet seen to such an entertainingly entropic degree. Their success as chefs was due not only to the dishes they created, but also to the chaos that would more often than not ensue. While the live television studio construct for Hudson & Halls Live! is an obvious and well-utilised narrative device, it does present one rather glaring problem – aside from one particular moment, we never truly see either of these characters in private, in moments of self-reflective honesty or genuine intimacy. Hudson and Halls were “hiding in plain sight”, a gay couple on national television who never addressed their relationship, but while they were never questioned about it either, this is a question that could be raised in theatre. Their on-screen personas were only a fragment of who these men really were, and when hearing friends of the couple talk about the intense love these two men had for each other, I can’t help but feel cheated from seeing it on stage.
This also means that only the classic clichés can be applied to initiate any drama. There are four major “conflicts” in the play (and they’re all seen coming a mile away), but of the four, only two are dealt with directly (and rather easily); the other is handled (I guess?), but the last, and most dramatic, never comes up again. The “amazing” story that inspired Emerson to collaborate with director Kip Chapman and Silo Theatre artistic director Sophie Roberts is not the story we are shown, and little has been done to extend this original devised script beyond its pantomimic Christmas special paint-by-numbers structure. Instead, audiences can expect a hilariously entertaining show, but one of little substance.
Hudson & Halls Live! is presented by Silo Theatre and plays at The Herald until December 5. For details see Silo Theatre.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Jan Maree