Mary said what she said is an eighty minute long monologue performed by Isabelle Huppert, in which she embodies a more and more disturbed Mary Stuart. Before the play begins and the superstar actress appears, the spectators attend a strange show: on the red curtains, a short film is screened on a loop, showing a dog that goes round in circles on its own, with a circus music in the background. This seems to be a warning to the spectator, to tell them they are going to watch a real performance, not a traditional play.
When the curtains lifts at the beginning of the show, the set reveals itself as extremely minimalist, with only a majestic Isabelle Huppert on stage, turning her back to the public. The stage is simply lit with neon lights and a coloured screen behind her. She is either a dark silhouette, or a statue so brutally lit that her skin seems transparent. Huppert inhabits this space with her voice (her real one but also her recorded voice, echoing throughout the play) and her body. The costume she is wearing, designed by Jacques Reynaud, is very important for the creation of the character and her posture. It is a big, dark, but shiny dress that makes her extremely rigid and highlights each of her arms’ movements.
Isabelle Huppert’s presence on stage is incredible and it is rare to see actors that inhabit the stage so well. Her acting, however, is extremely cold, not human and emotional enough, and that rapidly makes the spectator lose track of the text. Moreover, the fact that she talks into a microphone makes her sound even more robotic and colder than usual. There is something peculiarly non-human in the way Robert Wilson chose to direct Huppert, and the cold lights reinforce this atmosphere I would describe as uncanny.
I don’t think the play is interesting because of its content but rather because of what it creates with and from the actress. Huppert seems to be pushed out of her boundaries, and fades in with the character’s madness. There is something fascinating about watching her repeat the same lines over and over again, using every muscle on her face to articulate every word, and moving her arms in a never-ending loop. Isabelle Huppert, in this play, acts like a robot that slowly breaks down, and she is truly terrifying. The small mistakes in her acting remind us that she is actually human, and when she muffles a coughing fit or trips over her dress, it is difficult not to think how difficult it must be to do this every night.
Huppert’s acting is so magnetic, is so powerful, that even the music seems to be superfluous when she talks. The score, composed by the renowned composer Ludovico Einaudi, is beautiful but often too loud, and keeps the spectator from fully enjoying Huppert’s fantastic and self-sufficient performance.
A summary of the above review in French:
Mary said what she said n’est pas une simple pièce de théâtre, c’est une performance physique d’Isabelle Huppert qui est un spectacle à part entière. Seule sur une scène vide et éclairée par des néons, elle clame un monologue pendant près de quatre-vingt-dix minutes, d’une froideur qui la fait s’apparenter à une statue, ou à un robot qui se dérègle peu à peu. Le jeu si mécanique de l’actrice est un obstacle à la compréhension du texte, mais fascine tant il est précis et complet.