Sitting back over coffee at a café in The Rocks, Lieven Bertels has a look of a man who is getting comfortable with his legacy. Not that he’s smug or self-satisfied, but sitting on the table between us is a draft programme that looks set to deliver the last and finest in his four-year tenure as Director of the Sydney Festival. “My thoughts were very much not to be too nostalgic,” he admits with that Belgian lilt that explains some of the enthusiasms and cultural loyalties seen in Sydney over past years. “It is our 40th year, but we didn’t want to go back to anything in our history without being forward looking as well.”

A good example of that ethos is this year’s headliner: Woyzeck, Robert Wilson’s reinvention of Büchner’s unforgiving tale of man’s inhumanity to man as a 21st-century musical with songs by Tom Waits. “It’s connected to the Festival’s history, through The Black Riderthat Waits and Wilson devised and that came out to Sydney before,” Bertels explains. “But rather than bringing one of those classic Wilson productions, we thought, ‘what can we do...