A confession: the night before I went to this show, I was at a nineteen seventies party where I sunk my own weight in tequila sunrise.
Arriving at the Herald Theatre, three and a half hours of sleep later, it felt that the party was still going on. The foyer is decorated with enormous coloured photographs of presenters with bright white smiles, shoulder pads and big hair and there is a buzz in the air. We are going to see the recording of a television show. The first time it has been done live. ‘Anything can happen!’ beams David Halls (or rather Chris Parker – who seems to have grown taller since his brilliant No Dancing in the Good Room – but maybe it’s just the inches of bouffant blonde hair). Peter Hudson (played with dry determination by Todd Emerson, who triumphed with last year’s hit Daffodils) attempts a faltering smile and checks around to see if everything is prepared. The regular floor manager is off so they have a new girl. He isn’t happy. ‘Ngaire, when did you put the oven on?’ There was an oversight with timings. ‘That’s why we need Irene!’ Ngaire (played with perfect comic timing by Jackie Van Beek) redeems herself by grovelling on the floor picking up spilled Oregano and stuffing it back in the packet.
There was a glorious irreverent interplay between Hudson and Halls which is nicely replicated by Parker and Emerson, who must have done their research on archive productions because they are far too young to have seen them live. In fact they are far too young to play them at all really, the original pair not making it on to telly until their late thirties and these two are barely 25. Nevertheless they capture their energy, the banter, the joie de vivre and utterly charm the audience who are overwhelmingly over forty, and surely must remember the real thing.
The play is set at the end of a season of programmes in 1986, by which point, after eleven years on TVNZ the pair are household names. Criminal sanctions against consensual homosexuality are only just being lifted – a threat that nevertheless hasn’t stopped them camping it up for most of their career.
There is something very much of the age about Hudson & Halls; witty, attention-seeking, admiration-seeking even as it is a little subversive, a little competitive – they are very much the coded representation of the flamboyant gay man in entertainment at the time. If I have any criticism of the show it is that perhaps there is not a big enough differentiation between the way Parker and Emerson, particularly Parker, play Halls and Hudson when they are not ‘on air’. The show mask, even when he plays angry and upset, still seems to be on. A little more vulnerability, perhaps, to raise the stakes could take a very good performance up an even higher level. Nevertheless, this is a tightly written, perfectly-staged piece of comic theatre from Kip Chapman (and Sophie Roberts) that makes you snort with laughter. Highly recommended.