By Jamie Stewart
“You’re very tall, aren’t you?” She said, looking up at me.
“Yes, yes I am.” And that’s all I could really manage.
Last night I met one of my literary heroes, Jeanette Winterson. As part of Manchester Literature Festival, Winterson was presenting her latest project The Gap of Time: A Winter’s Tale Retold at the Royal Exchange Theatre.
Shall I compare the to a Shakespeare play? Well the truth is, you don’t really have to. Winterson isn’t simply retelling one of Shakespeare’s plays. She’s adamant that she’s covering it. There’s enough of the characteristic jealousy and paranoia in the text as well as the original characters in The Gap of Time to recognize Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Characters like Shepherd and Clown become Shep and Clo, Leontes becomes Leo, and Autlycus becomes a second hand car salesman of a company called AUTOS LIKE US. Bohemia is New Bohemia, a small town in Louisiana, and Perdita is a foundling, left in the baby hatch of a hospital.
The story goes like this: Leo, a successful hedge fund manager becomes increasingly paranoid and convinced that MiMi, his pregnant wife is having an affair. Leo, believing the newborn isn’t his, sends the baby away. Leo’s paranoia leads to the death of his first son, Mio, while his daughter Perdita, grows up innocently unaware of her connections to her tyrannical father. Many years after, Perdita and her father are reunited, and he redeems himself.
Although Winterson’s cover version varies from the original text, the essence of the story remains the same, forgiveness and second chances are an essential component of moving forward.
Talking about The Gap of Time, she said, “…Other than the typical, happy Hollywood ending, and we will forget that ending, narrative only really has three other endings: forgiveness, tragedy and revenge. Revenge and tragedy usually go hand in hand, and that leaves us with forgiveness.”
Winterson’s cover version is part of a larger project aiming to re-imagine and reintroduce the Shakespearean canon for a 21st century audience. The Hogarth Shakespeare Series is to coincide with the 400th Anniversary of the Bard’s death next April. Winterson joins Anne Tyler who is taking on The Taming of the Shrew, Margaret Attwood who has selected The Tempest, and Howard Jacobson who has chosen The Merchant of Venice.
The Gap of Time is a compelling read and, much like any performance of Shakespeare’s plays is best devoured in a single sitting, fully and swallowed whole.
Jamie is from Manchester and likes reading, writing, eating and baking. You can find Jamie in a coffee shop or the library.