Sunshine Super Girl (MTC) - Southbank Theatre, The Sumner - 95 minutes without interval
Updated: Nov 14, 2022
Respectful, determined and humble. That is the picture that emerges of Australian tennis great Evonne Goolagong Cawley in Sunshine Super Girl, a moniker given to her by the British press.
Goolagong picked up a tennis racquet at an early age and immediately showed impressive hand/eye coordination.
She grew up without the home comforts many of us took for granted, but loved rural and family life with her parents and many siblings.
Photos Paz Tassone
Moving to the city under the tutelage of coach Victor Edwards was a big deal and presented a number of challenges in the years that followed.
Nor did she escape taunts and calls for her to become the public face of Indigenous protests, although – as presented in the play – she chose to let her command of the game do her talking.
Sunshine Super Girl shows Goolagong to be gifted, fun-loving and grounded.
It has been superbly put together without pretence, but with creative flourishes, by writer and director Andrea James.
To her credit, James takes us – the audience – on a fascinating journey, focusing on Goolagong’s simple, carefree upbringing, before cherry picking highlights of her stellar career.
For the most part Sunshine Super Girl is good humoured, but it also highlights troubling episodes in Goolagong’s life. There are references to racism and sexual impropriety.
The thing that immediately strikes you as you enter Southbank Theatre, The Sumner is that the traditional theatrical setting has been upended.
In short, there is tiered seating on either side of a tennis court. The net can be wheeled around, as it is at various junctures, while projections appear on the surface of the court.
So, there you have it, a specially constructed and highly appropriate “stage” for a play about a woman who rose to attain the world #1 tennis ranking.
The set and costumes have been designed by Romanie Harper.
Ella Ferris is delightful and charming in the lead role. She endears herself with a most natural and buoyant display that exudes warmth. Her smile is endearing.
She is not alone in impressing. All four other cast members fill multiple roles and do so with distinction.
Jax Compton is a tireless “softie” as mum, while Lincoln Elliot is an encouraging dad and a polite, persistent suitor, Roger.
Kirk Page and Katina Olsen bring a sense of fun to their representations of brother Larry and sister Barbara. Page also shows us two sides to Evonne’s coach Edwards.
There is no shortage of choreography in the piece as the performers’ “dance” around the court at various times. Those movements are the work of Vicki Van Hout and Katina Olsen.
Sunshine Super Girl presents a engaging portrait of an unassuming and caring youngster who reached the pinnacle of her sport.
It is playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 14th December, 2022.