The distinguished British actor Jeremy Crutchley has recently been performing his one-man presentation of Heathcote Williams’ great poem, Sacred Elephant. The performance received nothing but rave reviews. One critic called it “endearing…vulnerable…unhinged…a deeply touching theatre-going experience.” In order to present Williams’ poem, Jeremy Crutchley took on the persona of “The Other,” a creature with elements of both man and elephant—a kind of ancient mariner conjured up to tell the story of a brilliant mammal “first worshipped, then sacrificed.” Jack interviewed Jeremy Crutchley in Los Angeles. On today’s show the actor discusses his deep involvement with Williams’ poem, with the creature at the center of the poem, and with his effort to turn the poem into theater. Sacred Elephant begins,
The shape of an African elephant’s ear
Is the shape of Africa.
The shape of an Indian elephant’s ear
Is the shape of India…
As if nature had kept an ear to the ground
When listening to the elephant’s territorial requests.
There are few such striking simulacra
Giving human beings a poetic licence to the landscape—
Save perhaps Italy,
Shaped like a wizened jack-boot.
At the poem’s heart is a perception of our relationship to animals and to their role in developing psyche:
Pictures and models of animals
Are latched on to tenaciously,
For by entering another domain
The child suspends its small, confined reality,
Widens the range of the perennial question ‘Who am I?’
And prepares an escape route
From the exhausting, centrifugal force of human domination.
In that other region, there are creatures larger and stronger than its parents,
With a different authority.
Part One of Two.