Musical theatre can be one of the most exciting theatrical storytelling formats, not to mention one of the most accessible. It’s even better when it sheds light on forgotten stories that aim to communicate with modern audiences. Andy Platt’s musical No Horizon sets out to do exactly this; with a new production mounted by PCA for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I looked forward to taking my seat at the Cow Barn at Underbelly Med Quad to discover something new.
No Horizon follows the story of Nicholas Saunderson, a Yorkshireman who went on to achieve feats of mathematical genius at Cambridge University, despite being blinded by smallpox at birth. Taking place in a time before the invention of Braille, No Horizon aims to revive the forgotten story of a man who fought against all odds to find his place in the world.
Large banners outside the theatre describe No Horizon as a ‘Yorkshire Les Mis’, and this coupled with the interesting-sounding storyline have me excited. Unfortunately, my hopes are dashed several minutes into the production. After the novelty of the first few songs wear off, this is a production riddled with problems.
My main issue is its overall directorial vision from Louise Denison – quite possibly one of the most unimaginative I’ve seen. It instantly materialises in the set design, which I’ve seen done many times before at local town hall am dram productions. There’s a blank backdrop which has images of locations and facts about the protagonist projected onto them as the production progresses. It might draw more attention to the actors, but it all just feels a bit bland and uninviting.
The vision seeps into the performances of the actors, which appear to lack real depth. Everything feels a bit too surface-level, and we never immerse ourselves in the world Nicholas is kicking against with his passion. Samuel Reid does show glimmers of this passion in his portrayal of Nicholas, while Sophie Bradley as Abigail is clear and characterful. But the rest of the company sadly don’t deliver similar performances, leading to a sense of incongruity amongst a cast that seems to be grappling with the very play it’s putting on.
This production’s problems aren’t entirely down to the creatives that have mounted it; No Horizon is a musical that has many inherent problems of its own. With a generic structure, lots of similar-sounding songs and unexciting text, No Horizon has a long way to go before being dubbed ‘Yorkshire’s Les Mis’.
No Horizon is playing at The Underbelly Med Quad’s Cow Barn until August 27.