the last train to madeline

‘The Last Train to Madeline’ // Fever 103 Theatre

Callum Mackay’s new play ‘The Last Train to Madeline’ is being presented at the Meat Market Stables in North Melbourne. It is a two handed relationship drama stretching over 15 years, a significant chunk of the young characters’ lives. 

Luke and Madeline (Maddy) meet when they are 8 years old, and play near the train lines, separate at 17 when Maddy gets on a train to leave town, and reunite briefly at 23 when she lures Luke away from his girlfriend to get on a train. We alternate several times between scenes at each of these ages, in a very structured way.

The jumps between ages are literally signposted on three tv sets that are moved around the set, all except for the penultimate monologue, when it is arguably the most important time to be grounded in the time frame. These screens also display live video that the characters capture on their video camera, with dynamic effects attributable to director Hayden Tonazzi’s additional credit as Audio Visual designer. 

The set itself has been designed by Savanna Wegman to evoke the overgrown ruins near the train lines that the characters play in as eight year olds. The angular spaces and tunnel through the middle provide plenty of varied spaces to represent different locations across the time frames, which are always grounded in the origin of their relationship. Oliver Beard’s atmospheric soundscapes are mostly utilized between scenes, as well as very effectively combining with Spencer Herd’s lighting to represent trains.  

Ruby Maishman’s Maddy is a familiar Holly Golightly or Jay Gatsby type character who it appears to be impossible to have a positive relationship with. She is referred to as a bad influence on Luke at age eight and certainly retains that status throughout. Such strong characters are often observed by secondary characters with no pressure to shine as bright, but here, Eddie Orton’s Luke is positioned as a co-star, and struggles to show an independence of character when so thoroughly influenced by Maddy in the scenes shown. Even his descriptions of his relationships with other characters are viewed through Maddy’s responses to them, and this is not true in the reverse. 

Orton is at his best when Luke pushes back against Maddy’s assertiveness, which happens as often as could be expected given their dynamic. Maishman revels in the free spirited Maddy, leaving us wanting to see her interactions with some of the other characters referenced. Both performers however struggle to convincingly portray the characters at age eight, and they are not aided by either the script or costumes.

Savanna Wegman’s costumes are mostly the same throughout; casual clothing that was intended to suit all age groups, but doesn’t give them the childishness they needed at 8, nor the maturity that Luke was at least trying to convey at 23. Maishman’s costume, a dress over a hoody, was a particularly odd choice.

Mackay’s play well establishes a fractured relationship between one and a half strong characters. Sometimes the characters at 17 felt like they were being written younger and the characters at 23 felt older, and perhaps they needed to be to convey the life experience that was being suggested. I think that only one or two scenes at age eight were necessary, but Mackay was a slave to the  structure he had created that required him to keep going back. We could have also spent some more time with them discovering the romance in their relationship at 17, to help us become more invested in the outcomes later.

Tonazzi’s director’s notes suggest that ‘The Last Train to Madeline’ is somewhat of a cautionary tale, but I don’t think there’s any harm in suggesting that the interactions we have with people, especially when we’re young, form a part of our lives that can’t necessarily be considered wrong or right. If Luke and Maddy meet again when they are 30 or 50, there’s no telling where they would be in their lives and how they might be able to be there for each other. It may make for another chapter in this story, and I would be there for Mackay’s take on it. 

‘The Last Train to Madeline’ performs until Saturday, 29 June 2024 at Meat Market Stables. For more information visit their website.

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *