Sunday, 24 February 2013

Linck - review

Written by: Caroline Mathias (@caroveraclare)

The Last Refuge, Peckham 

Catherina Linck had an extraordinary life: she grew up an orphan, lived in a religious community, lived as a man, fought as a soldier, and married a woman at a time when homosexuality was illegal and stigmatised. Linck was executed in 1721 (this isn’t a spoiler – the flyer describes ‘the only woman ever executed for sodomy’), but to see this story played out today as the UK moves towards legalising gay marriage is apt and thought provoking.

Linck begins with a recorded voiceover, a triumphant victory speech in which King Frederick I thanks the men of the nation and welcomes a new era. Hearing these rousing words spoken by a female voice highlights the lack of any mention of women in the speech itself. The world of the play is one in which women are passive – left at home during war, presided over by male rulers and subject to a justice system run exclusively by men.

Fanni Compton’s performance as Linck is committed and engaging, from her first entry as a tomboy child exploring the room to her impassioned pleas in court. Adèle Keating and Helen Worsley play other characters variously. Keating’s Prosecutor and Worsley’s Eva Lang, leader of the Inspirant religious group, are less convincing, but Linck’s young wife Cathy Muhlhahn (Keating) and Cathy’s mother (Worsley) are both strong performances.

The narrative plays out in flashback, beginning with the Prosecutor addressing the audience as a jury and summarising the case against Linck. We see her entry into and expulsion from a religious sect, and seem to move through the flashbacks chronologically, although this becomes less clear later in the play. There are a few lulls, mostly necessitated by costume changes – sometimes this meant the rhythm and tension dropped briefly.

Danny West and Ben Fensome’s script draws on transcripts of the 1721 trial, but they have also made substantial changes – in the play, Linck and Muhlhahn have a warm, close, intimate relationship, and Muhlhahn stands by Linck even after discovering her physical gender. Other accounts suggest that Linck was abusive, and that Muhlhahn was involved in bringing charges against her spouse. Within the structure of the play, the happier relationship made sense and was sensitively played – and the fact that I went home and looked up more information on the case says something in itself about the effectiveness of the production.

The Prosecutor’s closing statements focus on the two women’s sexual activity. Her message, essentially, is that to permit this ‘unnatural act’ between two women would set a precedent – and ‘where would it end?’ The audience sympathise with Linck because her right to dress, worship and identify herself as she wants to is so severely restricted, and the fact that Linck and Muhlhahn are happily married in the play makes it very clear that it is society’s views on their relationship that parts them.

The play grapples with women’s rights, gay rights and religious tolerance, all of which are still contentious and challenging issues. Prosecuting women for wearing trousers now seems ridiculous; in future, prosecuting homosexuals will hopefully seem equally archaic. Linck takes on a challenging biography and weighty themes, and for the most part it is successful.

This production has now closed. 

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