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Sacred Elephant by Heathcote Williams: Stage Adaptation by Geoffrey Hyland and Jeremy Crutchley

Sacred Elephant, currently Off Broadway adapted for the stage by Geoffrey Hyland and Jeremy Crutchley, is created from Heathcote Williams’ magnificent epic poem about nature’s divine design represented through the elephant. Crutchley gives an ethereal and other-worldly performance as The Other, the being of the elephant. The production is currently at La Mama’s First Floor Theatre until September 22. See the review on Blogcritics and on this site.

Below are the expressive photographs of Crutchley in an embodiment of the elephant’s ethos. I included these to enhance the previous review because of an article that appeared in the Huffington Post about a baby elephant who was rejected by its mother. It cried and cried for hours. Its response is heartbreaking…like our response when we were hurt as children and cried in desolation, or as adults who feel hopeless and cry out to God and the universe for solace and comfort. Click here for the article.

The elephant is us. Can we continue to destroy it and not perish ourselves? Elephants are beings like the other creatures on this planet and must be safeguarded and protected. If we do this, we safeguard our own destiny. Williams’ poem is dedicated to this end as is Crutchley’s performance.

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The marvelous Jeremy Crutchly.    Photo by Rob Keith

The following is part of the press release by Jonathan Slaff.

Jeremy Crutchley is well known in South Africa and the U.K., having performed a diverse range of award-winning contemporary and classic roles. He has received many Best Actor National Theatre Awards in South Africa and has appeared with the RSC and in the West End. He was nominated Best Actor in the South African Film & TV Awards for his leading role in “Retribution” (2011), a thriller in the style of Cape Fear. He currently appears with John Cleese as The Glock in the feature films “Spud” and “Spud 2.” In January 2014, he wil be featured in the U.S. TV series “Black Sails” (Starz).

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Jeremy Crutchley in Sacred Elephant. Photo by Rob Keith

Crutchley’s varied and enviable career ranges from classics to solo shows to rock shows. He performed Doug Wright’s international hit, “I Am My Own Wife,” in 2009 to kick off the Grahamstown Theatre Festival and in South Africa’s prestigious 2010 Fleur du Cap Theatre Awards, the show was nominated for six awards and received three, including Best Actor and Best Solo Performance.  Theater critic Peter Tromp (The Next 48 Hours) named the piece as one of the ten most memorable productions in his decade of reviewing. The previous year, Crutchley won Best Actor as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” before going on to play Alonso in “The Tempest” at Stratford-Upon-Avon and in that show’s sold-out national tour with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was a Fleur du Cap Nominee for his performance as Malvolio in “Twelfth Night”, also directed by Geoff Hyland. In 2002-3 at Edinburgh and in the West End, he created the role of Dr. Drabble in the black comedy, “The Dice House” (based on Luke Rheinhardt’s “The Dice Man”). In the UK in the 90’s, he performed at London’s Theatre Royal Windsor and Orange Tree Theatre and appeared in various TV productions for BBC. In the 80’s, he attracted notice for his performances in Sam Shepard’s “Cowboy Mouth” and “Equus,” among others. Also a rock musician, he has written two Rock Theater works and recorded a blues-rock album. When “The Rocky Horror Show” finally hit South Africa in 1992, he played Dr. Frank ‘n’ Furter in the original cast. His recent TV appearances include: “Miss Marple: A Carribbean Mystery”(BBC), “Kidnap And Ransom”(ITV), Martina Cole’s “The Runaway” (Sky TV) and “Women In Love” (BBC).

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Jeremy Crutchley as The Other. Photo by Rob Keith

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Jeremy Crutchley in Sacred Elephant by Heathcote Williams at La Mama First Floor Theatre. Photo by Rob Keith.

Heathcote Williams (author) is a poet, playwright and actor. He is best known for his extended poems on environmental subjects, “Whale Nation” (1988), “Falling for a Dolphin” (1989) and “Autogeddon” (1991). His plays have also won acclaim, notably “AC/DC,” which was produced at London’s Royal Court, and “Hancock’s Last Hour.” He is also a versatile actor whose memorable roles include Prospero in Derek Jarman’s film of “The Tempest.” “Sacred Elephant” was the first environmental poem by Williams, although it was not commercially published until after his better-known work, “Whale Nation” (1988). “Sacred Elephant” actually dates back to 1967, when Williams spent three months touring in India. While in Rajasthan, he observed local elephants and their trainers at close quarters. He also had a close association with a circus elephant named Rani and was able to watch her daily routine and behavior in captivity. Captive behavior, which is largely unknown to the general public, forms a large portion of “Sacred Elephant.”

The poem first appeared in print in 1987, published by Williams himself but in an unusual form. Three thousand copies were issued on elephant-sized paper and with print “large enough for elephants to read.” These newspapers were given away privately to friends and associates. That year, Williams performed the poem as a radio production, receiving many favorable reviews, including one from Harold Pinter who called it “a marvelous poem.” When Williams’ “Whale Nation” was published in 1988, it set a pattern for Williams’ books to follow, including “Sacred Elephant,” which was published commercially by Jonathan Cape a year later. Following this publication, the book received many more favorable notices.

It was recorded as a Naxos audiobook by Williams himself and given recitations, but it had never been explored for its powerful theatrical potential until Geoffrey Hyland and Jeremy Crutchley conceived this production. Heathcote Williams has granted exclusive dramatic rights to Crutchley to perform the work.

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