Alice Bell, Ben Fensome, C Nova, Catherina Margaretha Linck, Danny West, Edinburgh Fringe, Executed for Sodomy: The Life Story of Caterina Linck, Fanni Compton, Feminism, Gay Marriage, Lesbianism, Marriage, SHIFT Productions, Theatre Review, Transgender, Victoria Jones
The events leading up to the execution of Caterina Margaretha Linck provide a tale for our time, but unfortunately for her they occurred in the eighteenth century. Linck’s life may often resemble the antics of one of Shakespeare’s pastoral heroines. Born in Prussia, she disguised herself as a man and ventured out into the world to serve as a soldier and sweep pretty girls off their feet. There is even an agreeable note of farce to her brief career as an Inspirant prophet, especially the incident in which she revealed to a rich Nuremberg merchant that he would be able to walk on water. They didn’t let her have any more visions after that.
Linck was married to another woman in 1718 and her luck finally ran out four years later. Her mother-in-law exposed her gender to the world and the Prussians threw the book at her. The jury were undecided as to whether pleasuring a woman with a dildo constituted “sodomy,” but the king was a hardliner on these questions and he had the final say.
You’ll notice that I’m using the word “she.” You may find this unpalatable, but I regard gender as being purely biological. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as male or female consciousness. For me, Linck is ultimately heroic as a feminist; for what she did rather than for who she was. Her whole existence came to express contempt for predetermined female roles and attitudes, and she fought to be freed from them. The only sticking point is the dildo. Linck claimed that she and her wife had been knowingly lesbian; Linck’s wife insisted that she had been tricked into intercourse. If the latter was true, it would be a kind of rape rather than sodomy.
Now safe in a twenty-first century studio at C Nova, Linck’s story has been transformed into a fascinating and powerful play. The scholar Louis Crompton has described Linck’s biography as “a remarkable tale, with enough adventures, mishaps, and scandals to supply a picaresque novel.” SHIFT Productions have got in the door first and one must welcome their evident dedication to staging Linck’s story. Linck is particularly lucky to be restored to life in the person of Fanni Compton, who portrays her with sweeping, madcap physicality. When triumphant, Linck is launching herself around the stage like Peter Pan; when defeated, she is a ball of woe.
In tracing an implicit line from Linck’s execution to the legalisation of gay marriage, this play could be easily a disaster, but it mostly avoids sentimentality or didacticism. The early revivalist scenes, in which Linck seems a bit screwy, warn us that her world remains alien and inexplicable. The depth of Danny West and Ben Fensome’s writing often causes us to pause and wonder at this character. Is she naïve or irresponsible? Can there ever really be life after the society from which she has exiled herself so uncompromisingly? The mother-in-law (Alice Bell) is not a fire-breathing dragon, but a sympathetic figure who is trying to remain realistic under hopeless circumstances. She is only finally silenced when her daughter (Victoria Jones) asks if she had grieved for her husband with the same passion that she feels at losing Linck.
One weakness of this play is that it never specifies Linck’s age (she was only 27 when she died). We may suspect that Linck’s story has been romanticised or that it is inevitable that its realism would be taxed in the end. Yet it is still nice to witness an inspiring, legendary gay marriage and Linck serves us well as both pioneer and martyr.