Satyagraha - English National Opera 2010 - projection design by 59 Productions


Director: Phelim McDermott

Designer: Julian Crouch

Lighting Designer: Paule Constable

Costume Designer: Kevin Pollard

Associate Lighting Designer: Kevin Sleep

Video Design: Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer

Satyagraha - ENO

English National Opera

About this project

One of the most visually spectacular stagings of recent decades, ENO’s hit production of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha broke all Company records for contemporary opera when it premiered and then went on to enjoy huge success at the Metropolitan Opera, New York. It now makes a much-anticipated return to the London Coliseum.

Instilled with a breathtaking theatrical flair by Improbable’s award-winning director-designer partnership of Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, Glass’s masterpiece is a mesmerising and hauntingly beautiful meditation upon Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa and his spiritual progress towards the concept of non-violent protest. For this revival, Alan Oke reprises his compelling performance as the young political activist whose beliefs will go on to change the course of history.

A collaboration with Improbable

A co-production with The Metropolitan Opera, New York

Original production supported by The 20/20 Group

Revival supported by The Aaron Copland Fund for Music

Performed in Sanskrit with English surtitles

Original Production

Please click here to read information and reviews of the original staging of this production at the Coliseum.

Please click here to read information and reviews of the New York production.


'The staging, directed by Phelim McDermott and designed by Julian Crouch and Paule Constable, with video by Fifty Nine, is something else. Without doubt, it ranks as one of the most fantastically beautiful spectacles ever presented on this stage, charged with a poetic richness of imagination.'

Daily Telegraph

'Directors Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch work with big simple gestures, letting their imagery morph organically: the fit with Glass’s music, which consists of slowly metamorphosing textures, is so perfect that the evening’s events seem governed by the regular pulse of the heart....Not much ‘happens’, but it’s all played out with such sacramental seriousness, and on a kaleidoscopically-changing backdrop, that we are held riveted. The ceremonial stripping of the leader down to his famous semi-nudity, the movement’s ritual baptism of fire, and the march against the first official colour bar are each inventively realised; the final scene, in which Gandhi becomes John the Baptist to King’s apotheosis on a plinth, is spellbindingly beautiful. However one rates the music per se, this show as a whole is a masterpiece. Book now.'

***** Independent

'...It’s this hypnotic flavour to Glass’s sound-world that is so stunningly conveyed in this production, a collaboration with the theatre group Improbable. Mounted by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch, the staging creates a theatre of poverty to match Gandhi’s own philosophy of “Satyagraha”, or “truth-force”: the belief that fighting against oppression need not be done with violence....It’s disturbing, inspiring, uplifting. So what more do you want from your opera?'

***** The Times

'...A masterclass in stagecraft with handsome corrugated iron and newspaper sets, flying machines and huge papier-mache puppets on stilts....Gandhi's philosophy was based on individuals taking responsibility and, collectively, bringing about change. This was dazzlingly mirrored in the exhaustive workings of the ENO orchestra, conducted by Stuart Stratford, with each player contributing their thousands of scales and arpeggios to the seamless, ever shifting whole. Simplicity is always at the still centre of great art.'


'The production – a mixture of homespun theatrical experiment and professional know-how by the theatre company Improbable – looks wonderful, is constantly imaginative, and hits exactly the right artistic nerve. Out of little more than newspapers and corrugated cardboard they create mythic giant puppets, elephants, Indian gods, an entire production – like Gandhi himself, relying on the most humble of everyday objects to deliver an inspiring vision of another, better world. The rapt concentration of the staging is palpable. There is theatrical magic here and it is not surprising that audiences responded...for three hours the visual inventiveness of this Satyagraha simply dazzles all the [other] senses.'

**** Financial Times

'Three years ago, ENO's staging of Philip Glass's second opera, Satyagraha, devised by Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch of the theatre company Improbable, seemed a marvel, transfixing musically and visually. The production has since been to New York's Metropolitan Opera, and its return to the ENO reaffirms its dramatic potency, with giant papier-mache puppets, video projections and eloquently choreographed movement... Admiration is redoubled most of all, though, for McDermott and Crouch, who trust the music to work its hypnotic spell, and balance its moments of stasis against the freewheeling, dramatically appropriate imagery. It's a must-see for anyone who missed the first run, and a landmark in recent London opera.'

***** The Guardian

'Though the musical elements of the staging are therefore strong, it is yet the dramaturgical aspect that distinguishes this production. Directed and designed by British theatre company Improbable's Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch respectively, the production makes subtle but wonderfully effective use of text projections, incredibly elaborate puppetry (the large Gollum-like spectres of Act Two need to be seen to be believed), and a malleable set that opens out frequently to host Tolstoy, Tagore, and King in iconic poses overarching the drama. Every single touch of the production works. Broad stasis of course characterises the show, and as such Improbable work inventively within the field of information available to them. McDermott and Crouch gently nudge singers about the stage, they use projection and animation with just the right sense of colour and perspective, and they make a virtue of onstage transformations of set and prop (the final scene includes a startling movement involving tape first being strung across the stage with flickering effect, then being elegantly rolled up, before members of the 'skills' team finally adroitly manipulate it to become another version of one of the earlier spectres). The team generally employ a dramatic flair that utterly complements the very unique ethos of the work itself. The production contains great flourishes, but these never impede the opera's singular serenity, in fact compelling it to greater force instead...An achievement of the highest quality.'