Theatre review: The Last Train to Madeline, Meat Market Stables

A two-hander that tracks an evolving friendship through time.
The silhouette of a woman and a man can be seen behind a lit up sheet. Around them there are planks of wood, greenery and a TV set.

The Last Train to Madeline is a wonderful new Australian play by Callum Mackay. The two-hander explores the relationship between childhood friends Maddy (Ruby Maishman) and Luke (Eddie Orton) across three different time periods in their lives. They meet initially as eight-year-olds. Maddy is an adventurous thrill-seeker, while Luke is a cautious, chronic asthmatic. They form an unlikely friendship, and the play then switches back and forth between their prepubescent selves, the pair as teenagers and the young adults that they become. 

Mackay’s script beautifully navigates the terrain of the different time periods and carefully builds the layers of the friendship, with each scene adding something to the bigger picture. The use of a handheld camera and bicycle as objects that transition through the years with the characters is a clever device that helps anchor the audience in the story.

There are moments of humour that make the characters endearing and moving moments of painful revelation. The script loses a little momentum in the second half and could have perhaps be a couple of scenes shorter. However, the ending is well crafted and it is an overall impressive work from a young playwright.   

Read: Theatre review: King Lear, Neilson Nutshell, Pier 2/3

Maishman and Orton are excellent and their on-stage chemistry makes their relationship believable and one that the audience really wants to lead to a happy ending. The transition between the different ages of the characters is done smoothly and character development can be seen even with the many time changes. Maishman and Orton are always engaging to watch and are exciting talents who have bright futures. 

The set is imaginatively designed. A large concrete arch frames the stage, giving the impression of an ancient ruin. The stage has several cathode-ray tube screens that project both nostalgic images from the period as well as handheld camera shots done by the two actors on stage. While the set doesn’t necessarily scream out that this is Wangaratta and Melbourne, it is so striking that this is easily forgiven.

The lighting and sound design provide great support in creating an atmospheric experience, however the soundtrack that transitions between the scenes is a bit hit and miss in terms of adding something to the show. Archive footage that is displayed on the screens can be a bit distracting and should be used in shorter bursts to set the scene and then return the focus to the performers. 

The Last Train to Madeline is an impressive new Australian play. Mackay has written an engaging and memorable story that is beautifully performed by Maishman and Orton. Direction, set and lighting and sound design all add to a wonderful experience. It is very encouraging to see such exciting young talent and it is well worth a visit to the Meat Market Stables to see them in action. 

The Last Train to Madeline by Callum Mackay
Meat Market Stables, North Melbourne
Director: Hayden Tonazzi
Set and Costume Designer: Savana Wegman
Lighting Designer: Spencer Herd
Composer and Sound Designer: Oliver Beard
Stage Manager: Finn McLeish
Producer and Production Manager: Harry Dowling
Associate Producer: Seamus Allan
Cast: Ruby Maishman and Eddie Orton

Tickets: $30-$40

The Last Train to Madeline will be performed until 29 June 2024

Kim Hitchcock is a freelance writer based in Melbourne who has an interest in all art forms and enjoys exploring them locally and abroad. He has completed a Master of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne and can be reached at