Before reality shows like Masterchef, New Zealand’s own Hudson and Halls were whipping up very questionable cooking and making audiences around the country laugh.
Considered trailblazers, Peter Hudson and David Halls were also the original great gay love story at a time when most homosexual couples kept their relationships quiet.
Kip Chapman and Chris Parker bring the would-be gourmands to life again, with their Silo Theatre show Hudson and Halls Live! on at Hannah Playhouse in Wellington.
The duo will be up to their elbows in turkey stuffing as they take the audience back to a 1980s television set with burning pots, cold cream of cheese soup and a big splash of champagne for good measure.
This show is a labour of love for the team behind it. The cast and writers spent hours watching episodes, studying mannerisms and talking with those closest to Hudson and Halls.
But finding archival footage of the show was a difficult task as few episodes are still in existence. So Chris Parker, who plays David Halls, watched one episode 40 times as he wanted to do the character justice by combining Halls’ lisp and cockney background with his more formal side.
Studying Peter Hudson was more of a challenge though. “For Peter, I think he thought he was the more responsible one of the team,” says Kip Chapman.
Chapman, along with co-writer and husband Todd Emerson, spoke to those closest to Peter, but many had no idea about his past and information was sparse. While working on another project, Kip’s friend Cohen Holloway was watching a Hudson and Halls episode with him and pointed out that Hudson kept a lot of secrets. “That’s how you hold your body and that’s how your voice comes out (when you’re hiding secrets),” Chapman said. “Everything is connected”.
It’s no wonder Hudson was the way he was. Not only were they gregarious television hosts, they were also romantic partners during a difficult time for gay rights.
In Hudson and Halls Live! the duo are celebrated as trailblazers. “They were living life to the fullest and I’m inspired by that,” Parker says.
“This is a celebration of them. We are gay men; my husband is a gay man. Peter and David – they are heroes to us,” Chapman says.
“We still live against resistance, just look at yesterday with Brian Tamaki,” Parker adds.
Chapman has seen society’s view of homosexuality change in the past 14 years since he’s come out. He was on parliament’s front lawn when civil unions were introduced, then celebrated again 10 years later when marriage was made legal. He and husband Todd married earlier this year. “I was part of the journey. They (Hudson and Halls) were at the cutting edge of that fight 30 years ago,” he says.
One aspect of Hudson and Halls the play doesn’t touch on is the pain Halls endured after his long-time partner died of cancer in 1992. 14 months later Halls, heartbroken, took his own life.
“Imagine not being able to talk about it in public. He was interviewed many times after Peter’s death,” Chapman says. “Not being able to refer to him as “my love of 30 years, my partner, and my soulmate”.
“I watched a terrible interview with him where they said your “friend” had passed away. How hard was that for David? Dreadful,” he says.
Instead of focusing on the tragic ending of this love story, Chapman and Parker celebrate the camp humour, slapstick and colour through an outrageous cooking show.
The duo “camp” it up for the audiences, which they see as an empowering art form, going against New Zealand’s traditional “manly” ideals. “There’s no getting away from camp,” Parker says. “They (Hudson and Halls) camped it up for TV. I turn up my campness on stage. It’s nothing I’m ashamed of.”
In fact the “campness” of the show is something that has been commented on. “We were a little nervous we’d gone too far,” Chapman says. “But we’ve met David’s god-daughter, their friends and the producers of the show and the one note that we got was that we haven’t gone far enough!”
The pair are looking forward to their three-week run, which starts this week. “It’s a party in the kitchen and they knew what made good television,” Chapman says. “We don’t have TV like that now, everything is homogenised. Presenters are so bland. These guys were themselves.”