KATHERINE Githa Sowerby was a writer ahead of her time, forced to abbreviate her name – to KG Sowerby – to conceal the fact she was a woman. After causing a storm in 1912 with her play Rutherford and Sons, which thrilled audiences with its brutal attack on inequality, she has been largely forgotten.
C Nova (Venue 145)
Star rating: * * * *
Writer/performer Hannah Davies’s one-woman play, produced by up-and-coming young company the Flanagan Collective, tells the story of a feminist icon who – despite having her work produced by Northern Stage in 2009 – still doesn’t have her own Wikipedia page.
A glass manufacturer’s daughter from Gateshead, Githa fled the industrial north with her sisters to become a writer in London – a journey that the play twists into a compelling exploration of both female oppression and what art can and should be. Githa’s marriage to writer John Kaye Kendall – a lover of light comedy – is depicted as being filled with conflict, as he tries to change her writing style to suit his own tastes. Churning out frivolous entertainment is portrayed as infinitely easier for a woman than saying things that actually matter – but so long as Githa’s making money, her father is happy to siphon it off.
Davies’s character-driven writing and performance are filled with warmth and humour that avoids a dry retelling of history in favour of something much more enjoyable. Peter Darney’s direction moves scenes effortlessly along, while Jon Hughes’s fantastically subtle sound design conjures up a world of Edwardian cafes and time spent in the stalls. Githa’s continual struggles against the thinly disguised chauvinism of her critics are pertinently observed, but her relationship with her delightfully funny sisters disappears once she gets married, which is a shame – particularly for a piece that otherwise celebrates female friendship.
Throughout, Githa is being asked “why do you write?” by people who are really saying: “Why don’t you stop?” In interviews, she struggles to respond to questions from journalists who are constantly undermining anything she has to say. When she eventually finds an answer it’s saddening: “On the page I can roar as I never can in life.”
• Until 27 August. Tomorrow 3pm.