Linck & Mulhahn by Ruby Thomas. Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage, London to 4 March 2023. 3***. William Russell.

In 1721 Anastasius Linck, a dashing young soldier, met and fell in love with Catharina Mullhahn, a rebellious young woman, but it was a love that dare not speak its name and ended disastrously for Linck. Catharina in old age looks back – or at least I think so as their story is told by someone called Spinster played by Marty Cruikshank. Ruby Thomas has written a version of their story for today and director Owen Horsley has added lots of prancing about by the cast to loud bursts of music from the likes of the Sex Pistols. It is all very energetic for no very good reason. Linck, born a woman, had served in the army with only one fellow soldier discovering their secret, surprising because while Maggie Bain is a handsome, strutting Linck their voice has not broken and Linck is in their twenties. Catharina, played by statuesque Helena Wilson, who has a ridiculous mother, does not like the husbands being lined up and falls for Linck and they set up house – eventually their secret is discovered and they go on trial, which forms the second act when suddenly everything seems to descend into Carry On territory with comic judge and counsel and witnesses when in reality it was deadly serious. The punishment at the time for what they had done was death – in real life Linck was apparently hanged although here, being a soldier, gets to die by the sword while Catharina got three years imprisonment. She could have been burned alive. Was she tricked by Linck? Is this a queer tragedy? In some ways it is a play for today and the cast perform it to the hilt, more marionettes dancing to the director’s tune round a handsome skeletal set, however than people to care about until at the end when in adjoining cells the lovers have a final conversation before Linck is dragged off to be executed. Thomas has things she wants to say about trans history and the cast seize their chances – grotesque the judge and counsel may be but they are funny, and the relationship between Linck and Catharina is presented as a genuine, their life together a queer romance even if spent in penury – saying she was duped at the trial saved her from death. But somehow the evening becomes a tedious romp that goes on far too long, one worth seeing because it will give cause for debate afterwards and because it reminds one that it was ever thus for some people.

Johan: Daniel Abbott.

Anastasias Linck: Maggie Bain.

Mother: Lucy Black;

Doctor: David Carr.

Spinster: Marty Cruickshank.

Judge: Kammy Darveish.

Soldier: Qasim Mahmood.

Cornelius: Timothy Speyer.

Maid: Leigh Quinn.

Catharina Mulhahn: Helena Wilson.

Director: Owen Horsley.

Designer: Simon Wells.

Lighting Designer: Matt Daw.

Sound Designer & Composer: Max Pappenheim.

Movement Director: Natasha Harrison.

Fight and Intimacy Directors: Rachel Bown Williams & Ruth Cooper Brown of RC Annie Ltd.

Production Photography: Helen Murray.

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