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The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson review – an elegant retelling of Shakespeare

Sarah Crown

2015

This Winter’s Tale ‘cover version’, set in wealthy London and the deep south, kicks off a new series of Shakespeare for the 21st century.

The Hogarth Shakespeare series launched in October 2015 with The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson’s reinvention of The Winter’s Tale. The story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast.

Winterson’s cover version opens in an American city called New Bohemia. Here we see recently bereaved Shep, find a baby in a BabyHatch and take her home.

Baby hatches have been around since medieval times. A safe space usually outside homes for foundlings or orphanages, where new mothers could leave their unwanted baby rather than commit infanticide. Winterson, both abandoned and adopted, felt a particular resonance with this story.

The narrative moves to London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis where we find out how the abandoned baby ended up in a Baby Hatch. We meet The Winter’s Tale characters transformed. Leo (Leontes) is no longer King of Sicilia but an ex banker with a hedge fund, a helicopter, and a personality that verges on the sociopathic, while his wife MiMi (Hermione) is a famous French folk singer complete with wikipedia entry. As in the original, the dramatic events accelerate when Leo blows a gasket over unfounded suspicions that his wife has been sleeping with his best friend, Xen (Polixenes) who is a US-based writer of computer games.

Whitbread Award-winner Jeanette Winterson said of The Winter’s Tale: 'All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years. This is a brilliant opportunity to work with it in its own right. And I love cover-versions.'