No Horizon

Anyone wandering around central Edinburgh this festival will likely have noticed the large billboards and posters advertising No Horizon, a new musical of Broadway styled proportions, to the point of being dubbed as “The Yorkshire Les Mis” by Radio 1’s Chris Evans. With these lofty ambitions I was somewhat curious to see how the show would turn out, and was pleasantly surprised to find an engaging and ambitious musical that hit most of the right notes.

Definitely potential here for an incredible musical.

The show tells the story of Nicholas Saunderson, played by Samuel Reid, born in 17th century Yorkshire he is blinded by smallpox at birth but has an incredible academic mind, and his ambitions to defy his family and his communities low expectations of him lead him to Cambridge University and beyond.

The show benefits from having interesting source material, Saunderson is incredibly fascinating historical character, having taught himself to read and write before the invention of braille and whose mathematical mind rivalled that of contemporaries such as Isaac Newton. The adaptation to stage does a decent job of fitting the story into an hour running time but engages in the common mistake of trying to up the dramatic stakes needlessly. The character of Reverend Fox, played competently by Jim Ball, who acts as an early naysayer of Nicholas at the play’s beginning and stands in the way of his relationship with his daughter Abigail, played by Sophie Bradley, feels completely superfluous to the plot and could have been removed incredibly easily without losing anything. Indeed the book falls prey to some clumsy storytelling and rather contrived plot points, such as mysterious unexplained mental visitations and the period drama favourite of the cough of doom.

Despite this there is much to recommend the show, the cast are largely able to maintain a great deal of energy and enthusiasm which keeps up the audience’s engagement throughout, in particular Reid gives a stellar performance as Saunderson, hitting just the right balance of portraying a realistic blind person on stage without caricaturing it, and backing this up with an amazing voice that hits all of the emotional high notes of the story. The songs themselves are also wonderful fun, providing a nice mix of enjoyable energetic company numbers and emotional ballads. Indeed I must admit the show’s signature tune, No Horizon, has been caught in my head ever since seeing the show. By the lights up it is easy to feel deeply connected to our main characters through their stellar vocal work and strong performances.

No Horizon feels like a show that still needs to undergo some development. The book needs trimming to focus on its key themes and characters rather than forced conflict for the sake of it. There is, however, definitely potential here for an incredible musical and the performances and songs are enjoyable enough for me to recommend this show for any curious musical fans looking for something to see this festival. 

Reviews by Joseph McAulay

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The Blurb

'Yorkshire's Les Mis' (Chris Evans). 'One to watch out for' (Elaine Paige). True but forgotten story of sacrifice and an impossible dream. Stunning music and a gripping story of the blind boy who wanted to be seen. Humiliated by others, Nicholas Saunderson harbours a hidden genius and an unquenchable thirst for learning. But it's the 1600s: no Braille, nobody to help, no hope. Yet Nicholas has aspirations. This tale of courage, love and adversity is set against the contrasting earthiness of Yorkshire and the dreaming spires of Cambridge. Can Nicholas succeed in a world set against him?