Theatre Review: Sunshine Super Girl

Much like Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s career, this production is indeed a triumph.


Presented by State Theatre Company South Australia
Reviewed 6 September 2022

When you have great source material, a gifted script writer, a powerful story to tell and a dedicated, talented cast, you don’t need to overcomplicate things with lavish sets, fancy costumes and big budget special effects. State Theatre Company South Australia’s latest offering, Sunshine Super Girl, is a raw, honest and heartfelt production. There is nothing overdone in this production. It is a piece of exceptional theatre.

Based on the life of First Nations tennis superstar Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Sunshine Super Girl is a 100-minute narrative told through Evonne’s eyes. Writer and director Andrea James, descendant of the Yorta Yorta/Gunaikurnai Aboriginal nations, has drawn from Goolagong’s own memoir and biographies to create a script that celebrates her biggest achievements and struggles both on and off the court. From Evonne’s first encounter with tennis at age 7 through to her triumphant Wimbledon comeback in 1980, her story is presented through the excellent ensemble work of a cast of just five. Sunshine Super Girl also has the approval and assistance in its creation from both Goolagong and her husband. This is a woman whose sporting achievements deserve to be celebrated, and this production, produced by Sydney-based Performing Lines and presented by State Theatre Company South Australia, is a very fitting celebration of that. 

Sunshine Super Girl is the perfect example of a well-executed piece of ensemble theatre. Ella Ferris plays Evonne, and the remaining four cast members, Katina Olsen, Jax Compton, Lincoln Elliot and Kirk Page, play a myriad of different roles throughout the show. They slip in and out of characters through the addition of jackets, glasses, mannerisms and accents over their simple tennis whites. It is hard to pick a standout from Olsen, Compton, Elliot and Page as each are strong performers who bring a different layer and dynamic to this production. 

As Evonne, Ella Ferris delivers a faultless performance. She is engaging and endearing from the start. Every movement and mannerism is carefully placed. With the whole show presented as a narration through Evonne’s eyes, Ferris has the bulk of the dialogue in the show, which she delivers with clarity, great pace and the right levels of emotion.

Like the costuming, the set is simple, but works perfectly. The Dunstan Playhouse stage has been transformed into a tennis court, thanks to the creative design by Romanie Harper. Four long benches, four single seats along the shorter edge, a movable tennis net and an umpire’s high chair, make up the entire set. Each item on the court is creatively used to recreate beds, cars, or houses. The net is even moved around the court to show the size of the space in various scenes. Other simple items, such as tennis bags and wooden crates are used to house smaller props. Karen Norris’s lighting design is effective and sound design and compositions by Gail Priest add another level of brilliance to this production.

Along with the excellent direction, the choreography by Vicki Van Hout and additional choreography by Katina Olsen added another unique element to this production. Combining traditional First Nation dance with contemporary dance, the choreography was creatively used throughout the production. From celebratory moments, to tennis matches and even to set changes, the choreography breathed a depth of life into Sunshine Super Girl that added to the brilliance of the production.

Sunshine Super Girl is a fun, thought provoking and uplifting night at the theatre. A true celebration of an Australian icon. Much like Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s career, this production is indeed a triumph.

Reviewed by: Ben Stefanoff
Twitter: @theartsislife

Venue: Dunstan Playhouse
Season: September 2 – 17
Duration: 100mins, no interval
Tickets: From $39
Bookings: https://statetheatrecompany.com.au/shows/sunshine-super-girl/

Rating out of 5: 5

Photo Credit: Paz Tassone

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