In the beginning was the Word, but I honestly don’t know which word to begin with when trying to describe this production. It is epic in scope, travelling from Germany to Rome and covering the sixty two years from Martin Luther’s birth to his death, yet intimate at the same time, with a cast of five taking on roles from Pope Leo X to the Devil himself. It is performed inside an actual church, and yet the lighting and sound are done so incredibly by designer Jacob Burns, that we feel transported from a quiet grove to a fiery peasant’s revolt, from the Vatican to the centre of a storm. I realise this is not particularly eloquent explanation thus far, so in the beginning, then, I will say this; Saltmine Theatre Company’s production of Legacy: The Story of Martin Luther is not to be missed. Their final performance is at 2:30pm today. Be there.
A captivating piece of historical drama it would be a sin to miss.
The production begins in the midst of a storm, with Luther (Freddy Goymer) being looked after by his friend, Phillip (Ben Kessell). Luther fears he is hallucinating as he sees his parents, and himself as a baby, and so the narrative of his life begins. The action is episodic in nature, a series of scenes from Luther’s life, woven together by Goymer’s powerful performance both as narrator and as part of the action, as well as through beautiful moments of song from the entire cast. They work together flawlessly as an ensemble, with quick changes of costume, such as a scarf or a waistcoat, clearly establishing their different characters. I feel special mention must be made of Marcel White’s fiery, intense portrayal of John Tetzel selling indulgences, and Alys Williams’ subtle and chilling portrayal of the Devil. Credit must also go to the entire cast in their ensemble roles, along with Bethany Orrell’s set design and Burns’ lighting, in their use of silhouettes and shadows, from the moment where Luther nails his theses to the church door, to the moment where they all pose as statues on the streets of Rome, where Luther travels as a young man. This use of the set and the lighting helped to give the production its epic scale, with those casting shadows managing to convey an angry crowd, backed by flames, to monks at prayer in cloisters.
Despite its heavy subject matter, and the aforementioned storm and flames, the production does have many moments of levity, and moments of reflection and quiet amidst the action. Richard Hasnip has written a script that is clever, biting, and often poetic, with the Devil warning Luther that he will ‘shed more blood with [his writing] than all the swords in Christendom’, and Luther saying in prayer that God is ‘the only Father left to [him] now’. The production as a whole explores a complicated period of history and the life of a figure key to the Reformation with great skill, making both easy to understand while telling Luther’s story beautifully. I urge you not to see their final performance tomorrow; I am just sorry that I am busy and will be unable to see it again. A captivating piece of historical drama it would be a sin to miss.