WRITER: RUBY THOMAS
DIRECTOR: OWEN HORSLEY
CAST: HELENA WILSON; MAGGIE BAIN; LUCY BLACK; MARTY CRUICKSHANK
HAMPSTEAD THEATRE, LONDON NW3
FRIDAY 27 JANUARY TO SATURDAY 4 MARCH 2023
Linck & Mulhahn is a historical play set-in eighteenth-century Prussia about Anastasia Linck who lived as a man and soldier and their wife Catharina Mulhahn. Writer Ruby Thomas happened upon an article in the British Library which led to uncovering a transcript from the Royal Prussian Secret State Archives about the real life of Linck and their persecution for living as a man and sexual activity with a woman they married.
A summary of the transcript makes for fascinating reading. Thomas has managed to recreate the daring and courageous life led by Linck (Maggie Bain) and the horror they faced when undone. The catalyst comes in the form of a distressed and angry mother-in-law (portrayed with humour by Lucy Black) who believes her daughter Catharina Mulhahn (Helena Wilson) has been tricked into marriage.
This is a timely piece for trans awareness and LGBT+ History Month in the UK, showing how people have led lives as best they could in societies only accepting of two genders and the associated roles of being a man or woman. Essentially Linck, born a woman, felt more at ease as a man even though they had to conceal so much about themselves.
Maggie Bain (centre) and cast in Linck & Mulhahn. Photos Helen Murray.
Despite references to eighteenth century philosophical thought, at times the play feels more twenty first century with Linck and Catharina questioning normative values and gender roles like a Newsnight panel. But then again, perhaps eighteenth century common folk like Linck and Catharina did just that, given they were having to reposition themselves as a couple? Thomas bridges the centuries in many ways - her use of language is pretty fluid combining ye olde with contemporary English.
Thomas has written a playful and charismatic character in Linck who is actively attracted to women and equally attractive to them. Maggie Bain does the witty flirting brilliantly and Helena Wilson is a great match as a wife desperate to lead a meaningful life with someone less ordinary. Thomas hasn’t shied away from the sexual relationship either with plenty of rushed-up skirts and heads thrown back in ecstasy. She conveys a profound love between the couple too, so when the persecution unravels in the form of a trial the courage they display is deeply moving. So is the unjustness of it all, after all, they are simply living the lives wives and husbands throughout history have taken for granted.
Thomas has done a sterling job in many ways, not least in uncovering the hidden. As the Leeds based, trans awareness trainer, Kit Heyam says in the programme preface “the knowledge of the resilience of those who came before us can be a source of strength: a reminder that we are not alone.” As moving as it is humorous, Linck & Mulhahn showcases a great love we might not have known as well as a dreadful injustice, placing gender-non conforming people in history and on stage.