Sydney Festival ushers in its 40th anniversary in style as it unveils 2016’s headline acts: Toni Morrison and Peter Sellars’ Desdemona and Festival centerpiece, Tom Waits’ Woyzeck.

These two world-class productions are the first to be revealed by outgoing Artistic Director Lieve Bertels in his final year leading the festival. Desdemona is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s Othello, exploring the life and death of the Bard’s most tragic heroine. For the first time Sydney Festival will open its doors to audiences in October 2015, outside its usual summer Festival dates at the beginning of January. Opening the festival in the New Year will be German theatrical company, Thalia Theater Hamburg’s grim masterpiece, Woyzeck. This Sydney Festival exclusive is also Thalia Theatre’s Australian debut – an event facilitated by the support of the NSW Government and premier tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW.


“Sydney Festival’s 40th year will see a great line-up of artistic activity beginning with the special October season of Desdemona, an acclaimed piece of Contemporary Theatre. Over four decades, the festival has grown to become a wonderful showcase of home-grown and international talent,” said Troy Grant, NSW Deputy Premier and Minister for The Arts. “The festival offers visitors and residents a diverse array of opportunities to experience the arts as well as provide significant boost to our economy.

Gaining major accolades and critical praise during its successful tours around Europe since 2011, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison has collaborated with America’s most celebrated living opera and theatre director, Peter Sellars for this production. Under his impeccable direction, actress, Tina Benko delivers an intimate dialogue as Desdemona with Desdemona’s maid, Barbary, played by award-winning Malian singer and composer Rokia Traoré. The show explores a new, original narrative for this tragic character, whilst she settles into the afterlife following her murder. Unlike the meek Desdemona in Shakespeare’s play, Morrison’s Desdemona also boldly speaks out about racism, war and oppression, indirectly connecting audiences across different cultures to one another through common themes.

“Shakespeare’s Desdemona is divine perfection, but Toni Morrison allows her to be human, to make mistakes and, eventually, with eternity stretching out in front of her, to learn and to understand”, writes Peter Sellars.


In a similar vein, Thalia Theater Hamburg’s piece, Woyzeck also reimagines a well-known theatre work. American musicians Tom Waits and Katherine Brennan, and acclaimed theatre director, Robert Wilson, have reworked Georg Büchner’s play, transporting it into a more contemporary guise – a 21st-Century musical. It tells the story of a soldier, Woyzeck’s struggle to win the love of his beloved, Marie and the abyss of darkness he sinks into when she falls in love with another. Designer Jette Stackel’s vision is an epic one: actors will perform two interpretations of Woyzeck for Australian audiences and also participate in combat with an oversized grid of steel stretched across the stage in a monumental feat of stage design.

“Woyzeck deals with madness, obsession, children and murder – all the things that move us. It makes you fear for the characters and reflect on your own life. I don’t think you can really demand more than that from a play,” writes creator, Tom Waits.

The Sydney Festival will be running a limited ticket offer for audiences to catch Morrison’s Desdemona and Thalia Theater Hamburg’s Woyzeck for a total of $170. Desdemona runs from 23 to 25 October 2016 at the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Woyzeck commences its Australian debut on 7 January 2016 and runs till 12 January 2016 with performances at Carriageworks Bay 17.

For more information of seat pricing, please refer to the Sydney Festival website.