Once Upon Our Times: Fairy Tales Retold – review

London Literature Festival
Southbank Centre
Review by: Natalie Murray
Published: Wednesday, 30th October 2019, 9:41am
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Once Upon Our Times, London Literature Festival (c) Cesare De Giglio
Once Upon Our Times, London Literature Festival (c) Cesare De Giglio

Most of us have been told stories since we were young. Some of those are fairy tales that have stuck with us till this day, shaping our identities and views on the world around us. To mark the celebration of 40 years since the publication of Angela Carter’s seminal short story collection, The Bloody Chamber, the genre of fairy tale is given new life at Once Upon Our Times: Fairy Tales Retold at Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The live soundtrack is beautifully played by the improvising musicians, complimenting the storytelling

The event directed by Jack McNamara is a literary reading of a range of different fairy tales including excerpts from Angela Carter’s work. The event featured a reworking of Arabian Nights by Salman Rushdie and Marlon James’ interpretation of an African folkore story, as well as two works commissioned from writers Daisy Johnson and Sharlene Teo. These are adult fairy tales designed to make us think about the human condition through their exploration of themes such as belonging, sexual awakening, love and more.

The stories are given voice by well-known actors such as Toby Young and Paapa Essiedu, Imogen stubbs and Amara Karan. Each one of them drawing us in with their expressive voices.

The intimacy of the storyteller and the relationship is all the more pronounced in the cocoon-like setting of Queen Elizabeth Hall with its outstanding acoustics and a speaker system that clarifies and amplifies each note of the accompanying soundtrack. The live soundtrack is beautifully played by the improvising musicians, complimenting the storytelling. Angharad Davies played the violin alongside Aine O’Dwyer (harp) and Lee Paterson on electronics. The music provides an extra sensory layer to hearing these captivating stories from around the globe.



I left with senses awakened, feeling strangely comforted and with an unshakeable faith in the power of a good story

At 90 minutes, it was a short performance but a strong reminder of the capacity for stories to be affecting at a primeval level. I left with senses awakened, feeling strangely comforted and with an unshakeable faith in the power of a good story. If this is an example of the quality of the events at the London Literature Festival, it is well worth a visit.

NEED TO KNOW: Southbank Centre’s London Literature Festival 17 – 27 October 2019 | #londonlitfest