Religion, race, politics, sex…Over the years, American director Peter Sellars has tackled taboos aplenty on his journey from young iconoclast to respected theatrical guru, without ever losing his taste for the unusual, his desire to address the big issues and his reputation as a generous-spirited collaborator. Desdemona, a theatre work with music that is coming to Melbourne and Sydney this month as part of each of their festivals, is a prime example. First produced a few years ago in Vienna, the play came out of a three-way dialogue between Sellars, Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer Toni Morrison and Malian musician Rokia Traoré, and imagines the relationship between the wife of Shakespeare’s Othello and the African nurse who raised her.

The idea had its genesis in a debate between Sellars and Morrison in which the director claimed that as a play, Othellohad outlived its usefulness. “My point was that Shakespeare didn’t know any black people,” he explains over the phone from the States. “In the case of Hamlet, every single thought in his head you’re aware of. Hamlet has 400 soliloquies! Othello is on stage alone for 11 lines. You have no idea what he is really thinking. So...

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