Norwich actor takes centre stage in Martin Luther play
Actor Freddy Goymer has returned to his hometown of Norwich to take on the title role in a play about the life of Martin Luther at the Norwich Playhouse. Before the show he talked with Jenny Seal about his love of acting and what he hoped would resonate with the audience.
Professional actor Freddy Goymer stands out from the crowd – mainly due to his height (he stands tall at 6’4’’) and his big smile. For the past six years, the 27-year old has toured the country and beyond, acting with the Christian performing arts company, Saltmine.
In Saltmine’s latest production ‘Legacy: The Story of Martin Luther’ Freddy plays the lead for the first time, deftly assuming the character of the 16th century German reformer Martin Luther (not to be confused with his namesake the 20th century civil rights activist Martin Luther King).
During the summer the theatre company toured the play around the country finishing with a week at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. In June they came to the Norwich Playhouse with Freddy playing to a home crowd of around 200 people.
Performing in front of his family and friends isn’t a prospect he relishes. “I hate it”, he says, laughing before quickly correcting himself. “No that’s a bit strong. It makes me more nervous because I really value and care about my friends’ and family’s opinions. They will tell me what they think!”
Freddy was born in Norwich and grew up attending Notre Dame High School, leaving to study Ancient History at the University of Reading. He joined the Saltmine Theatre Company intern programme in 2012 before taking it on as a full-time job. He describes acting as “a lifelong dream,” inspired by going to see the West End production of The Lion King when he was ten.
“Acting is the one time when you can talk and no one interrupts!” he jokes. “No, I love telling a story,” he says. “And I love seeing what stories do to people – whether it makes them laugh or cry. People can walk away from the theatre feeling so much happier or joyful than when they walked in or thinking about their life in a slightly different way. That, for me, is why I want to do acting.”
Freddy now lives in the West Midlands, where Saltmine Trust is based, with his wife Beth, who is also from Norwich. What he appreciates most about working with Saltmine is “the culture of encouragement” in a profession that can often be egotistic.
Since joining the Saltmine Theatre Company, he has been part of productions that have told the story of historical figures including George Williams, the founder of the YMCA and John Newton who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace as well as a reimagining of John’s Gospel and Christmas productions of Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
In ‘Legacy: The Story of Martin Luther’ the cast of five actors tell the story through a quick-fire series of impressively choreographed scenes. The dizzying pace of the play reflects the massive societal change that the actions and beliefs of the German theologian brought to the 16th century.
“It changed the face of history,” Freddy says. “It’s such a meaty story, there is so much in it and so significant in history. For us, as a Christian theatre company, it’s a classic story to tell.”
The play began as a shorter piece performed in churches last year to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther’s ‘Ninety-Five Theses’, a text which sparked the Reformation. The script was then revised and expanded into a two-act production to give time to explore Luther’s character and spiritual journey in more depth.
The play opens with Martin Luther on his deathbed and then spans his life in a series of flashbacks. It shows him as a young lecturer realising that the Bible says salvation is granted through faith in Jesus, and not through buying forgiveness as had become the practice of the Catholic Church. It shows him stubbornly and bravely defending this belief, and his subsequent ex-communication and outlawing. The play also pays tribute to Luther’s pursuit of translating the Bible into German, enabling it to be read first-hand by ordinary men and women.
Freddy, who is on stage for most of the production, brings real humanity to the title role. He plays Luther as sullen and socially awkward but with flashes of humour, prone to suffering periods of self-doubt and mental anguish, but also able to produce great confidence and courage when publically standing up for his beliefs despite the danger to his own life.
This mix of courage and vulnerability is what appeals most to Freddy in Martin Luther’s story. “I wanted to show that he is quite vulnerable in many ways,” he says. “Luther does suffer with depression and mental health. A lot of our heroes of faith actually seem quite strong, but in some ways he was a very weak person. God used him even through his weakness. Seeing what God did with Martin Luther will hopefully resonate with the audience.”
The message of God enabling us in our weakness is one that Freddy has internalised in his own acting. “The acting world is quite a competitive world – ‘you are not good enough’, ‘you don’t look right’, there is a rejection culture and a lot of nos. That can be quite hard. You have to have a solid foundation of who you are and why you are doing what you are doing. If it’s because you want to be famous or be liked, I think that can crumble away quite quickly.
“For me in my faith, I know that I’m doing it because God’s called me to do it and also because I can tell stories that are on His heart. And actually if I’m rubbish but I’m impacting people, then that doesn’t really matter. I can be doing the worst acting job ever but if God is pleased then God’s pleased.” He quickly adds: “But I want to do my best… hopefully I won’t be rubbish tonight!”
That June evening the audience at the Norwich Playhouse gave Freddy and his fellow cast members a justified standing ovation.
Pictured above is Norwich actor Freddy Goymer returned to his home city to play the lead role in Legacy - The Story of Martin Luther