Sydney Festival to Launch 40th Anniversary Year with Desdemona, Woyzeck

Sydney Festival launches its 40th anniversary year with two great works of art; a special October season of Desdemona based on Shakespeare's Othello, and Festival theatre highlight Woyzeck - a stage adaptation of Georg Büchner's eponymous play by American musicians Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, and acclaimed theatre director Robert Wilson.


For the first time, Sydney Festival will open to audiences outside of its summer Festival dates with the powerful performance Desdemona, marking the beginning of our celebrations for the 40th Sydney Festival.

In an extraordinary narrative of words, music and song, the story of Desdemona from Shakespeare's Othello is re-imagined by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison, Malian singer songwriter Rokia Traoré and acclaimed stage director Peter Sellars, featuring actress Tina Benko as Shakespeare's doomed heroine.

Desdemona, the most fiery angel in Shakespeare's creation­, is a radiant and radical woman of independence, courage, and love. Toni Morrison creates an astonishing and provocative voice for Desdemona from the grave, revealing secrets in Othello that will forever change our reading of the play.


With original songs by Rokia Traoré and under the direction of Peter Sellars, the audience is transported into an intimate, spellbinding theatrical séance, both haunted and liberating, that moves in words and music across continents and centuries, connecting Elizabethan England to the Courts of Timbuktu to the future of the human race.

In January, Sydney Festival presents Thalia Theater Hamburg's chilling masterpiece Woyzeck as the headline performance for 2016 in an Australian exclusive season - made possible for Sydney by the NSW Government, through its tourism and major events agency Destination NSW. Making their long awaited Australian debut performance, leading German company Thalia Theater Hamburg present the stage adaptation and musical retelling of Georg Büchner's fragmented text.

Acclaimed theatre director Robert Wilson, American musicians Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan have reinvented the raw and unforgiving Woyzeck as a 21st century musical. Something between a fever dream and social drama, Woyzeck is a lurid performance dealing with madness, obsession and murder.

A simple soldier on the fringes of society, Woyzeck sacrifices his body and sanity to an arrogant doctor's medical experiments. Facing a narrow and lifeless existence, Woyzeck loves Marie, but what can he offer her? When a drum major catches Marie's eye, it all becomes too much for Woyzeck as he transcends into a downward spiral of madness and vengeful fantasies.

After his early death in 1837, Büchner left Woyzeck open for appropriation. Working with Robert Wilson, Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan created a musical re-working of Woyzeck releasing this music as the album, 'Blood Money'. Waits' songs look inside the characters and his music gives a new dimension to Büchner's text.

"Woyzeck deals with madness and obsession, with children and murder - all things that move us. The piece is wild and lurid and exciting and it inspires your imagination. 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 Tom Waits.

Under the direction of Jette Steckel, the actors are in constant combat with an oversized grid of steel and rope that is stretched across the stage and forms the centre of the powerful set design. Integrated with the action, the actors climb, hang and stumble over the netting which becomes an obstacle and a foothold; a prison in which the characters are both restrained and propelled.


Deputy Premier and Minister for the Arts, Troy Grant, says "Sydney Festival's 40th anniversary year will see a great line-up of artistic activity beginning with the special October season of Desdemona, an acclaimed piece of contemporary theatre."

"The NSW Government is proud to support Australia's biggest and best summer festival. Over four decades, it has grown to become a wonderful showcase of home-grown and international talent," Mr Grant says.

"The festival offers visitors and residents a diverse array of opportunities to experience the arts as well as providing a significant boost to our economy."

Festival Director Lieven Bertels says "Sydney Festival is proud to present international work by some of the world's most extraordinary artists including Peter Sellars, Toni Morrison, Rokia Traore, Robert Wilson, Tom Waits and Jette Steckel, and to introduce Australian audiences to the work of leading German theatre company Thalia Hamburg in their long-awaited Australian debut. Both significant works in their own right, these performances will move audiences in words and music across continents and centuries."

Join us in marking the beginning of our celebrations for the 40th Sydney Festival with the powerful and unique season of Desdemona and the Festival centrepiece performance Woyzeck.

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