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Happily Ever After

25 July 2012 | 7:00 am | Sarah Braybrooke

“The prince did a lot more than kiss the princess. In fact she slept right through her own pregnancy and giving birth.”

It's official: there's a fairytale revival afoot, from K-Stew's sword-wielding take on Snow White to last year's Red Riding Hood and TV's Once Upon A Time and Grimm. But away from film's big budgets and elaborate sets, storyteller Reilly McCarron has been working on a different kind of fairytale renaissance. She's delved into the history of folklore to create a staged telling of Sleeping Beauty that brings something of the traditional oral storytelling experience to a modern audience.

Told using music and artwork, but above all by simply using her voice, McCarron's Sleeping Beauty is based on a version of the tale from the 14th century. Like many fairytales, it was originally meant for adults. McCarron explains, “The prince did a lot more than kiss the princess. In fact she slept right through her own pregnancy and giving birth.”

Getting to sleep through childbirth might sound ideal to many women, but McCarron sees the heroine's unconsciousness more symbolically: “It's about sleeping through your life”. She believes storytelling has the potential to be more than just entertainment. “I think stories are very rich with embedded wisdom and deep insights. Fairytales are perfectly-shaped little stories that capture a part of the inner landscape. They're a safe place where you can see dark emotions play themselves out.”

If it sounds like McCarron takes folktales more seriously than most, that might be connected to her status as an official Bard – an ancient name for a storyteller – with the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids. Yep, druids. McCarron is quick to point out that there are no human sacrifices involved. “'Order' is an official-sounding name but really it's very informal. There's no dogma and there's no person at the head of it.” Celebrating the seasons and practicing singing and storytelling turns out to be more their bag. “It's basically just a peaceful, tree-hugging kind of thing.”

You might expect someone who embraces the full moon and hangs out with druids to disapprove of the recent boom in CGI-laden fairytale adaptations like Red Riding Hood and Snow White & The Huntsman. However, nothing could be further from the case: “It's wonderful to see these re-tellings of fairytales, because that's how they always were. Before they were written down they were an oral tradition, and they would change a bit with each telling. The worry is when a tale gets locked into one version, like the Disney tales. I think they're delightful, but I also think it's a shame that there's a popular perception [that they are the originals].”

McCarron hasn't always been a folklorist and storyteller. She worked at the ABC for 12 years, until the department she worked for was shut down. She lost her job, but in the best fairytale tradition, what seemed a curse ended up being a blessing in disguise. ”They gave me a little pot of gold and told me 'go do something else'. Now I'm following my dreams and pursuing things I'm passionate about.” She cites studying folklore, playing the harp and spinning as some of those things. “[It's] the handmade life… A life that you craft out of your own personal meaning.”

Sleeping Kingdom, Walking Beauty runs from Thursday to Sunday, 7pm, the Butterfly Club.