photo by Rob Keith

It was sweltering as we climbed into the hot box of the Intimate Theatre. Once or twice a year it is so hot in there, the only option is to succumb to sitting, coated in your own sweat that becomes a steam cloud around you, mixing with everyone else’s steam cloud. It was quite fitting then to watch Heathcote Williams‘ poem Sacred Elephant, performed by Jeremy Crutchley and directed by Geoff Hyland, also with an amazing costume designed by Ilke Louw and evocative lighting design by Luke Ellenbogen.

I have loved Heathcote Williams’ poems about animals; Whale Nation, Falling For a Dolphin and Sacred Elephant, since I read them about twenty years ago. (I do have to confess that I have not loved the performances of Whale Nation that I have seen.) This stuff is murderously difficult to get right. It is a complicated balance of intellectual, emotional, lecture, poem, history, ecology, myth, and agit prop and too much of any one of those can make it exhausting.

On a floor and wall cloth of hessian, a weirdly human/elephantine Jeremy Crutchley breathes sacred life into the body that will carry the words. Then for seventy minutes he praises, croons, weeps, rages, pleads, rants, whispers the story of Elephant.

Is it worth saying that there were many performer choices that I really didn’t enjoy, but that didn’t stop me from being completely moved? Strangely self-conscious and weirdly phrased, Jeremy navigated the minefield of this material sometimes wheedling, sometimes whispering, sometimes shouting. Every moment is chosen and considered. Every gesture in its place. And is mesmerising, haunting and sad.

As we filed into the still hot night, we spoke and felt disturbed by the ugliness of humankind (where ‘kind’ is the least appropriate word) and in awe of a performer who could carry the weight of a poem to Sacred Elephant.