She Knows You Know

Saturday, 25 October, 1997
Review by: 
Darren Dalglish

Hylda Baker ( 1905 - 1986), was an entertainer from the north of England who started her career as a Music Hall entertainer . When the Music Hall became unpopular she succeeded in transferring her stage persona to TV series called 'Nearest and Dearest (1968 to 1972) and "Not On Your Nellie", and to films such as 'Up the Junction'. She is known for catchphrases such as "Be soon, I said, be soon", "You big girl's blouse" and "She Knows, you know", which is the title of this play.

Hylda Baker was a very funny entertainer who began her career at the age of 10 with the help of her father who , it is said in the program, " instilled in her the need to fight, enabling her to strive and survive in a man's world." Although she enjoyed success on the stage, her personal life was full of heartache. She wanted children, be never had them, she could not hold down a relationship, and she became lonely with very few friends. However, her biggest fear was that she would lose her mind and end up like her father , who after an accident at work, was left brain damaged. Ironically, she did develop memory problems in later life, which resulted in her last few years being spent in confusion and relative obscurity. This play covers both her stage act and her tormented life personal life .

Jean Fergusson, who has written and co-produced the show, as well as starring as Hylda Baker, began researching the life of this great performer in 1990 and premiered the play in 1983. The show has been presented at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and the Edinburgh Festival, where it received some very god reviews. Jean has also recorded the play for BBC Radio 4 and has just completed writing a book about Hylda Baker which will be published by Breedon Books in September.

Th play is a complicated one, but one that probably reflects the life of Hylda Baker. However, Jean Ferguson puts everything in to the part and she is so convincing and believable. She captures the personality and image of Hylda Baker perfectly. You could tell she had researched this character fully, as it felt at times that it was Hylda Baker on the stage herself!

The play has you laughing one minute and almost crying the next. However, the problem with the play is that it is a little too long. It lasts 2 hours 20 minutes, but I think 2 hours would have been suffice. There are some parts of the act that needed shortening . This was because they became a little repetitive, particularly as Hylda Baker has a voice that was irritating at times.

I think this is a play for Hylda Baker fans and Music Hall lovers only. If you do not know the character then you might find parts of the play, particularly the humour, bizarre.

The show has received favourable reviews from the popular press. BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES describes Jean Fergusson's impersonation of the comedian as , "terrific." MICHAEL COVENEY of THE DAILY MAIL says the show is " evocative but over-mawkish" and goes on to say "But the show is hide-bound by its own sentimental format. You laugh and you cry." PATRICK MARMION of THE EVENING STANDARD says "Fergusson throws herself at this role making her act seem more real than feigned." BILL HAGERTY of THE NEWS of the WORLD says if you like Lancashire humour, you'll enjoy this show " However, the SUNDAY TIMES critic was not overly impressed, describing the show as confusing and saying he was not impressed.

'She Knows You Know' has a limited season at the Vaudeville until December. However, the theatre was barely half full, and for a Saturday evening this is not good and suggests the show may not make it to December. This is a pity, but then American tourists, who are probably the most important theatre goers to London Theatres, have probably never heard of Hylda Baker and so, are put off seeing this play.

(Darren Dalglish)

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