May 18, 2016

Jeanette Winterson at AWF 2016: The Gap of Time

Renée from our Sir George Grey Special Collections spent Sunday morning in the company of Jeanette Winterson and... over a thousand fellow Winterson enthusiasts gathered in the ASB Theatre. Here's "The Winterson's Tale" as told by Renée:

Well, Jeanette was amazing.

It was a sunny and fresh Sunday morning and the festival atmosphere was suitably sparkly out on the café terraces, but the crowds were nevertheless eager to get inside to hear Jeanette Winterson talk about her latest book, The Gap of Time. But this was no ordinary talk – and I’ve had this confirmed from Festival goers more experienced than myself – Jeanette’s event was really more of a performance, and a wonderfully engaging and uplifting one too.

She appeared onstage alone, sans interviewer and comfy chairs, to Cyndi Lauper’s "Time after Time". Next came some thundery audio snippets of what must have been Leontes raging in The Winter's Tale – a little hard to follow, to be honest, but I forgave it because I knew her novel is a retelling of the play and we all love Shakespeare in Auckland right now. And then she began to talk about Shakespeare, in a wonderfully anecdotal, digressive, and poetic way, about why The Winter’s Tale was the only possible choice of plays for her to retell in the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Because of her own adoptive history; because it has an abandoned baby “at the shining centre of it”.

So she talked about Shakespeare, and how he also loved to rework and re-tell his stories, and how in The Winter’s Tale he takes the themes of betrayal, revenge and tragedy from Othello and King Lear and instead of devastation and loss, creates an opportunity for the restoration of love through forgiveness.

And then she read from the book, and at first I found it odd, because the Jeanette Winterson I remember loving as a teenager was all poetic and oblique (think The Passion and Sexing the Cherry) but this was an action scene, set in a fictional New Orleans, with tyres squealing and gunshots. And with onstage sound effects! Surprising, but she really did bring it to life.

And that was just the fish-hook. What she read next (Chapter Two) was a perfect description of love and loss as experienced by the narrator: the life-changing experience of a first baby and the impossible fact of his wife dying. I cried, and if you’ve loved or experienced grief you might have too.

After that it was questions, which Jeanette also somehow managed to make transcend the ordinary. The first one asked about Shakespeare and how difficult was it to turn the high drama of the play into a novel. Jeanette cleverly used this as a jumping-off point for another passionate monologue, about the importance of language in allowing us to express our thoughts and feelings “because when we can’t find the words, that’s when we really struggle”. Woven into this was the importance of education…. and so she brought it back to Shakespeare, whose work gives us the big words and the big stories, so we can give voice to our big thoughts and feelings.

It was clear to me that what I was enjoying was a pretty polished performance - after all I’d heard Jeannette herself deliver some of the same lines in her radio interview with Kim Hill just the week before. But this didn’t diminish the experience at all. She came across as a smart, funny, sincere and feeling person, and she inspired her Sunday morning devotees to a standing ovation.

-- Renée 

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 11:11


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