Browsing in the British Library one day, playwright Ruby Thomas discovered a court transcript that showed a couple, Linck and Mülhahn, being interrogated about their relationship, gender and sexuality. It sounds like it could be today, almost anywhere in the world, but it was actually Prussia 1721. Imagining the details behind the relationship and the trial, Thomas has created the story of Linck & Mülhahn.
Anastasius Linck (Maggie Bain), is a popular, respected and successful soldier living his best life. Swashbuckling with his army brethren he uses well-practised skills to please any woman who catches his fancy. One afternoon, after being ordered to undergo a full medical examination, he deserts rather than comply. Bain shows Linck as suave and self-assured, with charisma and ease in almost any situation, and is a joy to watch.
Catharina Mülhahn (Helena Wilson) drives her mother (Lucy Black) to despair as she refuses to act as a young lady is expected to, and shows no interest in any possible suitor: she is living life on her own terms. Wilson and Black have fun with this and the back-and-forth between the two is hilarious. This changes when Mülhahn meets Linck, now working in a tailor shop under a stolen identity. Sparks fly, and the two fall in love and marry, with quite a lot of sex along the way. The chemistry between them is electric – utterly convincing, and the relationship is touching, in particular as Linck eventually shows his body to Mülhahn in the bath, beautifully staged with vulnerability and intimacy.
Linck and Mülhahn are arrested after Mülhahn’s mother, never approving of their marriage, rips Linck’s shirt to reveal he had been born a woman. The trial turns the play into farce, reminiscent of a ‘Carry On’ movie with some very broad acting – surely a deliberate choice to comment on the trials (literal and metaphorical) that non-cis people go through. But it feels overboard, lacking trust in the audience to see the message without it being OTT. The musical interruptions during scene transitions are jarring and disruptive (not to mention too loud) and pull the audience right out of the flow. That said, there is a powerful comment in Linck’s silence. Everyone gets to speak about their gender, medical professionals, government representatives, friends and enemies… but not him. He must sit there in silence and listen to it all.
The smartly designed set revolves, changing from house to tailor store to courtroom. Clever staging and direction (Owen Horsley) show us both characters at the same time, each carrying on with their life. Mülhahn reads a book while Linck spars with soldiers. It also allows for some striking visuals, such as when the soldiers march in and around Mülhahn. The set rewards further at the end; where once the two lovers were shown carrying out their own days, separated by having not yet met, now they are physically separated, caged and neither to have a happy ending.
The original transcript from 1721 records Linck as saying ‘Even if I am done away with, those who are like me will remain’. Thomas has taken this record and told a story full of joy and queer joy with a staggering relevance and analogy to the struggles faced by non-cis people today.
Written by Ruby Thomas
Directed By Owen Horsley
Design by Simon Wells
Lighting by Matt Daw
Sound Design and Composition by Max Pappenheim
Linck & Mülhahn plays at Hampstead Theatre until 4 March 2023. Further information and bookings can be found here.