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‘Linck & Mülhahn’ review

  • Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Linck & Mulhahn, Hampstead Theatre, 2023
Photo: Helen Murray

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Ruby Thomas’s uneven but endearing play offers a wilfully upbeat account of a doomed queer love affair in eighteenth-century Prussia

The title of Ruby Thomas’s play suggests some kind of cringey comedy double act, but the reality is weightier, stranger and sexier than that. ‘Linck & Mülhahn’ is the true story of two gender pioneers in eighteenth-century Prussia. Anastasius Linck boldly renounces skirts and embroidery in favour of living as a man, and Catharina Mulhahn's own act of bravery is to love and marry him, slipping their relationship right under the noses of their narrow-minded neighbours.

They were ultimately tried for sodomy, and this could easily be one of those depressing stories that queer history books are littered with, the ones where people dare to be different and then get crushed by conventional society’s peppermill. But Thomas's big innovation here is to pull out and imagine all the fun, creativity and joy behind the stark historical court transcript that inspired this play.

Mülhahn (Helena Wilson) is a 22-year-old rebel who derails her mother's matchmaking attempts by threatening to fart or crap on the floor. Refreshingly, Mülhahn senior (Lucy Black) is given just as much spirit. ‘I don't lurk, it is inelegant. I linger’, she says, both women relishing all the humour in a script that's stuffed with larky historicisms like ‘zounds’ and ‘dunderhead’.

Her first meetings with Linck (a cocky, unreadable Maggie Bain) are full of both beautifully written moments of sexual tension and quite a lot of actual sex: he works in a fabric shop, where their fingers lovingly caress folds of silk before progressing to more illicit pleasures. Linck is all cocky confidence: poignantly, the moment he finally starts to show Mulhahn his vulnerability is the moment when men storm in with the inevitable arrest warrant.

This play's relentless enthusiasm for turning tragedy into comedy founders in the second half, when Linck’s fight for his life turns into a grating courtroom farce packed with the buffoonish antics of various bewigged gentlemen.

For all its spirit, there's something old school embedded into the structure of Thomas's play that director Owen Horsley's furious blasts of the Sex Pistols between scenes can’t shake off. We don't need the trite framing device of an older Mülhahn looking back at her youth. It feels way too obvious that young Mülhahn’s answer to patriarchal oppression is to dream of being a writer (not everything can be ‘Emilia’). And the closing attempt to imagine a different future feels unearned, and tonally disjointed from what's gone before. Still, there's something so lovable about this play and its quest to find a golden thread of joy in a dark, tattered old story.

Written by
Alice Saville


£25-£39.50. Runs 2hr 20min
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