Upon seeing any title followed by the word "Live!", my interest is usually cut short. Even when it is a television show, celebrity, or anything I am familiar with, the corny, family fun of "Live!" shows is not something that immediately appeals to me, so naturally I figured a live performance of a kiwi cookery show would be totally wasted on me. Upon a little digging though, I discovered that the famed cookery show had been cancelled in 1986, and its locally adored hosts had passed away in tragic circumstances. Written and directed by Kip Chapman (who also stars as Peter Hudson), "Hudson & Halls Live!" is not a run-of-the-mill live studio performance, but a theatre show based on that format, set at a pivotal point in relationship of Peter Hudson and David Halls (both professional and personal).
Chapman himself is difficult to tear your eyes away from. Loud, camp, and exuberant, even when he is not the focus of attention he is an ever-entertaining presence. His interval improv at the bar added a really nice touch. Chris Parker provides contrast as the slightly more down-to-earth David Halls (though no less big in character), and together they have tremendous chemistry. Though my experience with the show is limited, they seem to embody the same energy and joy of their inspiration, and I am reliably informed by grinning kiwi audience members that they are exactly as they remembered them.
The jovial nature of their characters is intended to contrast at times with the tone. The story is a somewhat farcical descent into chaos as disorganised cooking combines with tension off camera, as Hudson and Halls learn that their show has been cancelled after 10 years. Usually this works, however their are moments that sink a little too far into tense drama and away from the light comedy that we expected and that had been working so well. For example, trying to combine a dark comedy with context, the circumstances of the deaths of Hudson and Halls (where Hudson died of cancer in 1992, and Halls took his life the following year), are reeled off along with other standardised pieces of information, health and safety, food and drinks available etc. It felt a little jarring, and not wholly necessary, as the show would have worked just as well without needing to know that aspect of their history. Aside from a couple of tonal shifts, it was surprisingly touching for a Christmas comedy.
"Hudson & Halls Live!" is slightly catering to an audience who watched and remembers the television show from years gone by, but that does not stop it being funny and heart-warming to the average theatre-goer. It's sweet fun, it will most certainly delight fans and entertain everyone else. Four stars.