Saturday 22 June 2024

THE LAST TRAIN TO MADELINE: Theatre Review

WHAT: The Last Train To Madeline
WHEN: 18 - 29 June 2024
WHERE: Meat Market Stables
WRITTEN BY: Callum Mackay
DIRECTION & AV BY: Hayden Tonazzi
DESIGNED BY: Savanna Wegman
LIGHTING BY: Spencer Herd
SOUND BY: Oliver Beard
PERFORMED BY: Ruby Maishman and Eddie Orton
STAGE MANAGED BY: Finn McLeish

Ruby Maishman and Eddie Orton - Photo by Liv Morison

It is rare in independent theatre to see sumptuous productions presented with all the quality of a major state theatre company because nobody has that kind of money. Somehow Fever103 has pulled it off with Callum Mackay's The Last Train To Madeline which is playing now at the Meat Market Stables.

The Last Train To Madeline is a coming-of-age story. Perhaps influenced by the title, at first it feels like it is Maddy's (Ruby Maishman) story. Maddy is an 8-year-old girl who pretends her dad is Bruce Springsteen which is why he is never home. He is always away on tour. She steals a video camera from a classmate, Luke (Eddie Orton). He figures it out and after negotiating their way out of the incident they become playmates. The plays cycles between the ages of 8 years old, 17 years old (when they are young and in love and planning their escape), and 23 years old when Maddy returns to find Luke happily ensconced in a quiet, 'normal' life.

About halfway through the play I realised this isn't Maddy's story at all because she never gets the space to develop any real insight into herself or her life. She is the manic pixie dream girl trope created to activate Luke's life and choices. Does it matter? Not really. And it is true to say there is nothing new or original about the story or the characters either, but that doesn't matter either, because the play does what it does really well and the actors are top class. Do I have a little niggling resentment of the traditional 'Eve' portrayal of the female screwing up the male's life? Yes, but I am fighting thousands of years of history when I try and break that down.

Savanna Wegman's set dominates breathtakingly and provides an isolated playground for these two characters to explore themselves and each other out of the prying eyes of society and acceptability. Ostensibly a concrete overpass from a long disused railway line reminding us of the history of Wangaratta where the story is set. The shape also references the streamlined facade of our modern bullet trains. All of this feeds into the long-standing tropes of trains and travel and the vagabond. 

This metaphor is one of the base concepts in American film making and just about everything about this production including the topic, structure and - most especially - the sound design kept reminding me of Sofia Coppola's work. If this play was a film, it would be the kind that would win awards at film festivals. This feeling is enhanced by the very cinematic sound design by Oliver Beard.

The Last Train to Madeline is directed well by Hayden Tonazzi. My one wish is that he hadn't given away all of the secrets of the set within the first couple of scenes. What it meant is that the play struggles to build truly intimate moments and the audience has nothing left to learn about this world as the play progresses. 

Part of this is Wegman's problem too because the set lacks any dynamic elements to allow the story to expand. Rather than all the greenery upstage, that space could have been much more cleverly calculated by both the director and the designer - perhaps have a more St Kilda influence... Spencer Herd's stunning lighting design works hard to carry the burden of maintaining a sense of reveal and newness in the latter parts of the play, but we already know what there is and how the space can be used so there is a 'more of the same' sense to the final scenes which makes the play feel a bit longer than it is.

Having said all this, as a theatrical production The Last Train To Madeline is about as perfect as you are going to get. It is visually stunning, has sophisticated performances and design elements which are fully realised. This production has evidently had money and time and the audience is the winner. 

4.5 Stars

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