Githa is a one-woman show about Katherine Githa Sowerby, suffrage playwright and writer of Rutherford and Sons, and her struggle to be respected in the male-dominated literary world. Githa is also the outcome of one up-and-coming female playwright, Hannah Davies, fantasising about the life of another, once very successful, up-and-coming female playwright. It would not be unfair to say that Davies, who plays the part of Githa in this production, is perhaps living a little vicariously through her work.
The acting, if nothing special, was solid. It enabled us to see exactly how Davies sees Githa and the family, friends, and acquaintances that surround her. The action was wonderfully complemented by the use of background noise, with the sounds of London streets reminding you of the world of business Githa is trying to break into with her writing and the stream in the countryside echoing her creative processes.
Davies’ writing, at times, was perfectly nuanced. At one point John Kendall, Githa’s husband, laments that his singing voice used to be a ‘hit in the drawing room, until the gramophone came along’, a clever metaphor for the Industrial revolution. In a different scene, Githa, for a second, notices that a newspaper boy’s hands are cracked from the cold. It is in subtle moments like these where Githa’s social concern is captured most professionally, as opposed to the more overt, overblown speeches elsewhere in the play. There were also some lovely jokes, which suspended the mostly serious narrative, that the audience lapped up.
However, Davies too often used highly poetic and hyperbolic language, which ran the risk of sounding cheesy and clichéd. Lines like ‘I must stop time with my pen!’ are particularly grating. The script is also perhaps too biographical. It didn’t seem as if any creative adjustments or interpretations of the facts had taken place, which meant that the play sort of teetered out towards the end.
The play’s premise, according to the flyer, is to explore ‘one woman’s remarkable impact on a man’s world’, but the trouble is that this is not a very unique idea, nor is it approached in a particularly unique way. You leave without having learnt anything more than what you already knew about the hardships of women in times gone by. Davies’ Githa claims that she wants her work to make people feel, think, and then perhaps act. However, assuming that Davies too values this sentiment, it is unclear what, in this twenty-first century Fringe context, we are expected to act upon. When there have been successful female dramatists since Aphra Behn in the seventeenth century and when there are are hundreds of them now, portraying one-hit-wonder Sowerby as some kind of feminist literary heroine seems odd.
However, some of the social commentary on English culture is more than relevant. Githa is too modest and embarrassed to be able to talk about her work with interviewers, people at dinner parties, or even her sisters. It is only her husband and those seated in the audience that get to hear about what writing does for her, creating the impression that this English awkwardness and lack of expression in social situations is what produces such profound English writing.
This is a thoroughly engaging study of how writing comes together and how it came to Githa in particular.