Linck And Mülhahn

Ruby Thomas
Hampstead Theatre
Hampstead Theatre

Linck And Mülhahn Credit: Helen Murray
Helena Wilson as Catharina Mülhahn Credit: Helen Murray
Timothy Speyer as Juryman 2, Maggie Bain as Anastasius Linck and Daniel Abbott as Juryman 1 Credit: Helen Murray
Maggie Bain as Anastasius Linck and Helena Wilson as Catharina Mülhahn Credit: Helen Murray
Marty Cruickshank as Spinster Credit: Helen Murray
Helena Wilson as Catharina Mülhahn and Maggie Bain as Anastasius Linck Credit: Helen Murray
David Carr as Priest, Qasim Mahmood as Soldier, Kammy Darweish as Judge, Timothy Speyer as Juryman 2, Maggie Bain as Anastasius Linck, Daniel Abbott as Juryman 1, Lucy Black as Mother, Marty Cruikshank as Spinster, Helena Wilson as Catharina, and Leigh Quinn as Girl Credit: Helen Murray

Though inspired by Prussian court records of the trial of Anastasius Linck and Catharina Mülhahn on charges of sodomy in 1721, Ruby Thomas’s play is not a documentary drama but a re-imagining of the story of Catherina Margaretha Linck, assigned female gender at birth but who lived part of her life as a man, and Catharina Mülhahn, the woman she married. It is framed by a spinster narrator, who turns out to be Mülhahn in later life, to emphasise its ongoing relevance.

In this retelling, which condenses events into a much shorter timespan than the real story, we first encounter Anastasius / Catharina Link in uniform, a swashbuckling Corporal in the Hanoverian army. They (to use today’s non-binary nomenclature) give a girl on the game the best orgasm ever but refuse return stimulation to avoid discovery. They appear to have avoided fellow soldiers finding out they aren’t what they appear to be, but when a medical examination for clap comes up, they go AWOL.

The other Catharina, a young woman bored with life and disliking the prospective husband her mother has lined up, notices Anastasius on the run and recognises them later in the drapers where they find employment. A flirtation between the two among bales of fabric soon grows into something much more serious. Catharina suggests they should marry and Anastasius agrees, though warning it will not be like other marriages.

Anastasius claims to get their own pleasure from pleasuring others but, though the court record apparently goes into some detail, here nothing is so explicit. Though the pairing is passionate, this is a romantic relationship, though destined for a tragic outcome after Catharina’s mother exposes them. In Saxony, their sexual practices could carry a death sentence: burning for women and hanging or the sword for men.

Maggie Bain makes a handsome Linck; smartly uniformed and adept at swordplay, they have a bravado confidence but with a flicker of unease, the risk of discovery of what their clothes are hiding. Linck sees love-making as an art but love as a sham. It takes Catharina to light in them the flame that fellow soldier Rosenstengel (Qasim Mahmoud) says is latent in all of us.

Helena Wilson’s Catharina, however, can’t wait to be lit up, a proto-feminist as well as being sexually inquisitive. Full of energy, she’s a rebel with a great personality.

References to reading Locke and Descartes are a reminder that this was the Age of Enlightenment, and a book by English proto-feminist Mary Astell among Linck’s possessions sets Catharina writing. She wants a freedom most women won’t get for centuries (and some are still waiting).

This is a picture of the happiness that can happen when people are allowed to be the people they feel themselves to be and love in the way that they wish. Its retelling of history cannot change what happened but we can live differently.

Owen Horsley’s production has great pace with a burst of punk rock and a rush of people carrying things from scene to scene as Simon Wells’s strutted setting revolves between inn, barracks, parlour, shop, attic or court room. In contrast to the realism of the two lovers, there is a caricature edge in the way their opponents are pictured. Lucy Black as Catharina’s mother and Daniel Abbott as John, the proposed husband, play it to the hilt. When the lovers are brought to trial, the judge (Kammy Darweish) and the jurymen (Daniel Abbott and Timothy Speyer), who seem more like prosecuting counsel, are satirically comic without detracting from the gravity of the situation.

The mixture of styles, intended perhaps to highlight the relevance to our own struggles, risks jarring and the heavy humour is overdone, but this is as much fairytale as history and perhaps it should be seen in the same way.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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