Enoch said there had been conversations with Adjani’s team about the health risks since smoke began filling Sydney in November, but he was surprised they pulled out.

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“The reason to cancel Opening Night for medical reasons is not taking into account all the expert opinion that the air quality in Sydney is not as bad as it has been and is vastly improved,” he said.

The play, a reworking of John Cassavetes’ cult movie of the same name, was to have run between January 21 and 26 at the Sydney Opera House.

Landing Adjani, 64, who has been twice nominated for an Oscar, was a major coup for the Sydney Festival. The Paris-born star has worked with some of the movie world’s greats and includes award-winning films Possession and One Deadly Summer on her resume.

Enoch said he understood the need to cancel shows for time to time, but he found the reasons this time to be “unacceptable”.

“Sometimes you cancel a show because someone passes away. It’s not about the cancelling of the show, it’s the signal it gives,” he said.

“What am I going to do, force them onto a plane?”

Artists have a critical role to play during international crises, Enoch said, to help people forget about what’s going on and “feel different for a moment”.

“I believe that artists go into moments where communities need them. We can tell stories in ways that lift them.”

Enoch said Adjani and her crew would not be invited to the festival next year.

“I’m not here to be punitive [but] this is one of those situations where I go ‘No, I don’t think Sydney deserves to be treated like this’. You don’t treat Sydney like this.”

A spokeswoman for Adjani was contacted for comment.

Sydney Festival has promised refunds to those who purchased tickets.

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