MARY SAID WHAT SHE SAID | Paris, Espace Cardin

Sheathed in a tightly cinched dress the colour of rusty blood, Isabelle Huppert projects methodical madness in American writer Darryl Pinckney’s first return to theatre since 1995. Beautifully translated into French by Fabrice Scott, the piece teases out the strange beauty of how we are both stuck in the architecture of our minds and bodies, and yet endlessly new.

Directed by Robert Wilson (Pinckley’s long-time collaborator), this dreamy romp into the subconscious is a reverie, repentance and rebellious tirade delivered by Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Huppert), on the eve of her execution. The endless word-flow is awash with dredged up dregs of Mary’s past, bobbing hither and thither into Mary’s doomed present before collapsing back into darkness.

Huppert combines an uncompromising emotional rawness with an unsurpassed attention to formalistic details, weaving Mary’s thoughts into dense and pulsing incantations, in turn echoed by Ludovico Einaudi’s baroque soundscape and Wilson’s searing light scheme.

But beyond text and emotion, this is a muscular meditation on our primal desire to persist as bodies and minds in movement. Huppert exhausts the same ritualistic motions, flapping her arms semi-comically, traversing the stage to form a figure eight, angling her body like a broken automaton. She repeats the same phrases, like algebraic lemmas or fomulae. But at the threshold of oblivion, Mary’s last moments are more than the sum of her historical past and her sculpted choreography (Fani Sarantari).

Which is why this piece resonates so powerfully. Though she will die, Mary persists in constriction. Her bulldozing momentum, her trying reveal how the absurd rituals of life cannot ultimately rob her, or anyone, of the dignity of simply being.

Upcoming performances throughout Europe can be found here.

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