Dashing soldier Anastasius Linck doesn't want to fall in love, then a chance encounter with rebellious Catharina Mülhahn changes everything.

But this is 18th century Prussia, and Linck was born a woman.

The couple forge a boundary-breaking relationship that rejects the rigid rules of society in a world determined to tear them apart.

Ruby Thomas’ Linck and Mülhahn is inspired by the court records of Catharena Linck, who was a 23-year-old soldier when they married 18-year-old Mülhahn.

Their relationship lasted four years until Mülhahn's mother reported them to the authorities. At the trial, Linck insisted both knew the 'truth' before the marriage, but was convicted of sodomy, wearing men's clothes, and being baptized multiple times. The jurors debated the biblical definition of sodomy, and appropriate punishment given that 'no fleshly union' had taken place. It fell to King Frederick William I to deliver a verdict - ordering Linck beheaded and burned.

Linck's gender pioneering story has been all but forgotten, but Thomas seized on the records to recover and imagine the underlying love story. Non binary actor Maggie Bain, who plays Linck, praises her sensitivity.Ham & High: Maggie Bain and David Carr in rehearsal. Picture Helen MurrayMaggie Bain and David Carr in rehearsal. Picture Helen Murray (Image: Helen Murray)

"It's incredible how responsible she is. Given the nature of the issues, there's been so much discussion in rehearsal that she takes away. You see it woven through the scenes with a lightness of touch."

It's a question of balancing historical events with relevance to modern audiences says Bain: "There's so much we don't know, but filling in those gaps is the creative opportunity. History is written by those in power, but we can now look back, take creative licence, and change the prism through which we see it - the tragedy is if they were alive today, their situation would be different."Ham & High: Helena Wilson plays MulhahnHelena Wilson plays Mulhahn (Image: Helen Murray)

For Bain, it's personally important "to go back and shine a spotlight" on stories like Linck's.

"We have always existed, we are woven into the fabric of humanity, and it's important to factor in a non binary person's perspective. We are as full of love as anyone else. The one thing you can never have too much of is love. It should be celebrated in all of its forms."

Given the danger, why does Linck place themself in the risky environment of a barracks?

"At the beginning we see them very confident; a lothario and soldier, well practiced in giving pleasure to women, but not realising what it means to love," says Bain.

"To protect themself from discovery and survive in a barracks full of men, they have pushed themself to the limits. It has required incredible discipline, proving themselves as the best swordsman. The worst thing would be to fall in love with someone when it won't go anywhere, so they are driven to protect themselves from feelings. Then Mülhahn rocks their world and together they find this very private, beautiful relationship that's against all the social mores."Ham & High: The cast in rehearsalThe cast in rehearsal (Image: Helen Murray)

Bain says it was "incredible" just to pick up the play.

"I am exploring things I never thought I would when I went to drama school. Anastasius and I share a lot; like having to shut down what you truly want and limit your feelings to protect yourself. I know what it is to be finally given the space by someone supportive to drop those defences and fully inhabit who you are. That isn't easy, even today."

Bain feels "hopeful" at increasingly open discussion around gender, especially among younger generations: "It comes down to making a little bit of space for a few people - there isn't an army of LGBT people coming for you!," says Bain, referencing recent Census figures on gender identity.

"Yes you may have to stop making assumptions, it may be uncomfortable to think about things you have never had to. Mistakes will be made. We are educated not to get anything wrong, but we shouldn't be hauling people over the coals for making mistakes. As long as you are willing to listen, I am always happy to engage with whoever comes to that conversation with a wish to understand and see me in a way I would like to be seen."Ham & High: Linck and Mulhahn runs at Hampstead Theatre from January 27.Linck and Mulhahn runs at Hampstead Theatre from January 27. (Image: Shaun Webb)

As a child Bain was "incredibly shy," until an inspirational teacher introducted them to plays and new ideas at 12: "I never wanted to do anything public so my parents threw me into drama to encourage my confidence and it backfired on them!"

In a school environment unconducive to coming out, acting proved an "absolute revelation."

"I was at an all girls Convent school, a hard environment that required discipline to get through my daily life and fulfil what was expected of me. Stepping into male roles for a part I got as close to who I dreamed of as was possible. As soon as I started, I couldn't let it go. Acting has been a life saver over time, surrounded me with supportive people, and given me the bravery to come out and live my life truthfully."

After a year at drama school, Bain has worked consistently, although before landing "the most wonderful supportive agent" it could be isolating.

"I've had agents put pressure on me to grow my hair or look a certain way. I've been up for parts that on paper I thought 'this is me,' but what they actually wanted was someone prepared to cut their hair short, or wear fatigues. Auditions like that were soul destroying.

"There are not many out non-binary actors my age, but it's glorious to see so many more coming up in the generation after. There's a part of me that wishes I'd had that community around me, but I am thrilled with how things are changing. I never thought we would get here."

With casting now more diverse, foregrounding lived experience of a role, Bain said: "It's important to push people with the relevant experience to the forefront of their own stories so we can look at how we have been telling them, and what we can learn from those people themselves.

"I would hope the pendulum would swing back more where a role can be cast because they are the right actor for the part. But until we are at the point where we see all the experience and talent in front of us equally, it's imperative people are not left out of their own stories."

Linck and Mülhahn runs at Hampstead Theatre from January 27-March 4. https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/