Review: The Lady of the House of Love – Queensland Music Festival, Brisbane City Council and Metro Arts – Sue Benner Theatre

You go away for a bit and, when you get home, find out from friends just how many good shows you’ve missed. It’s inevitable, I suppose; Winter is the busiest time of the theatre year in SE Queensland. The indies are out in full force right now joining the main-house and touring productions at QPAC – harbingers for the coming Brisbane Festival and its accompanying fringe events in early spring.

It’s not hard to miss a show or two in Brisbane these days. The range and general quality is impressive. Greenroom has missed a couple or come to them late in their season – no bad thing of course, although it does mean you have rather missed the bus when it comes to getting a review out in the usual time frame for such things. As a side note, I managed to catch the marvellous Venus in Fur from Queensland Theatre Company before it closed last week. The reviews were universally glowing, and deservedly so for David Ives‘ intellectual hijinks superbly directed by Andrea Moor and magnificently played by Libby Munro and Todd Macdonald. People are still talking about it; I don’t think they knew what had hit them. Plays like this confirm why we love theatre. As do productions like The Lady of the House of Love an equally beautifully realised fantasy but in another theatrical key altogether. I also came late to this production and I am so glad I did not miss it.

Sandro Colarelli‘s is a bravura performance, directed by David FentonDaniel Evans‘ is a fine adaptation for the stage of one of Angela Carter‘s short stories: The Lady of the House of Love. Musician John Rodgers accompanies Mr Colarelli on piano and violin stage in composer Jake Diefenbach‘s song cycle, and the eerie, gothic world, down to pooled shadows, scattered rose petals and Mr Colarelli’s own haunting appearance is beautifully realised by the design team of Josh McIntosh, Andrew Meadows (lighting) and choreographer  Neridah Waters.

The chamber work, a music theatre piece first performed in 2008 Under the Radar as part of the Brisbane Festival, is a fine vehicle for the talents of Sandro Colarelli. He’s simply splendid – an artist in top form. He glides and purrs through vocal octaves, switching effortlessly between characters as he narrates – embodies – the tale of the tortured lady who lures young village lads and gipsy boys to her chamber of love and death. They are helpless to resist the perfume of the blood-red roses that line the path to her door. Yes, we are in vampire territory; she is the daughter of Nosferatu and doomed never to know love.

All that changes when a young English soldier on leave from his regiment arrives at the door. She seduces him and knows love for the first time. As the light of love and day flood the chateau, she dies – as she must – this much we know about vampires. The young soldier apparently accidentally takes one of the fabled roses with him. He’s recalled to his regiment and discovers the rose which seems oddly to be still alive. He places it in a vase and immediately its bloody beauty revives and fills the room and soon the whole world as the clock ticks towards 1914. This much we know about World War I. It’s haunting stuff and delivered with the deftest of touches by Mr Colarelli and the creative team behind the production.

The Lady of the House of Love closes tonight after a season of about a week. It’s played in the tiny Sue Benner theatre on Edward Street. This intimate space in Metro Arts is perfect for productions like this one. It doesn’t belong in a big house where the delicacy and nuance of narrative and performance – of the subject matter itself – would be lost. As I waited for the doors to open pre-show, I read the board which lists current works in development. I see Mr Colarelli, along with other artists being supported by Metro Arts, is working on another piece. I can’t wait.