LINCK & MÜLHAHN at the Hampstead Theatre
“Wilson and Bain are remarkable, deftly switching between the comedy and the subtler, more poignant moments”
Linck and Mülhahn is billed as an epic romance inspired by the true story of an 18th century gender pioneer. I expected it to be an interesting story, and an important one. What I did not expect, was for it to be funny. But funny it is. Very funny.
Much of this is down to Ruby Thomas’ script, which is both witty and bawdy, full of inuendo, and lightning-fast flirting. Owen Horsley’s direction pumps the play with energy, and it races along, aided by punk rock scene transitions by sound designer Max Pappenheim. Despite the heavy subject matter, the play rushes along with zest and spirit.
All that survives of this true story are the court transcripts, documenting Anastasius Linck’s life and their gender non-conformity. Ruby Thomas has framed this story as a romance between Linck and Catharina Mülhahn. There are shades of the screwball comedies in these lovers’ fast-paced flirtation. Both are radical, passionate about the contemporary political philosophy and enjoy a racy joke. Their sizzling romance begins with the feisty young Mülhahn (Helena Wilson) gawping at the dashing Linck (Maggie Bain) through a window. Her unabashed lust, and boldness, is refreshing in a period drama. Throughout the play the dialogue crackles out from the era, making the characters feel so real, it’s easy to forget they’re all long dead.
Both Wilson and Bain are remarkable, deftly switching between the comedy and the subtler, more poignant moments. A particular highlight of both performances is a quiet scene where they bathe one another. Their chemistry and connection are the heart of the play and there is no doubt that these two belong together.
Another stand-out performance is from Lucy Black, as Mülhahn’s mother. It’s a fascinating character, she is bitter, trapped in her internalised conventionality but hopelessly bored and lonely. Black seamlessly navigates the complexity of this role, making her at once both a villain and a victim of her own era.
Simon Wells’ set is modern and evocative. It is a revolving two-storey structure made of veiled screens and doors, which often light up in different colours, courtesy of lighting designer Matt Daw. This creates an illusion of privacy in more intimate scenes, but also the sense that their privacy is as flimsy as the screens themselves.
There are moments where the comedy muddles the emotional punch, especially in the second half. There is also a narrator, which at times feels melodramatic, and unnecessary given the strength of the story itself.
But it is a great story, and this play has spun it in a way which feels fresh, and vibrant. This is not the story of a downtrodden victim. It is the bold and unapologetic cry to leave shame behind and live your own truth.
Reviewed on 6th February 2023
by Auriol Reddaway
Photography by Helen Murray
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022
Blackout Songs | ★★★★ | November 2022
Sons of the Prophet | ★★★★ | December 2022
The Art of Illusion | ★★★★★ | January 2023
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