Interview - No Horizon (at the Edinburgh Fringe 2016)

Described by Chris Evans (Radio 2, BBC’s The One Show) as Yorkshire’s Les Mis, No Horizon tells the true, long forgotten story of sacrifice and an impossible dream. Blind Yorkshireman Nicholas Saunderson was an 18th century visionary. Despite adversity and his lack of pedigree, Saunderson always harboured a hidden genius and an unquenchable thirst for learning. But before the invention of Braille and with nobody to help him, there was little hope.Yet Saunderson had aspirations. This tale of courage and love is set against the contrasting earthiness of Yorkshire and the dreaming spires of Cambridge.

If that synopsis isn't enough to grab you then check out my interview with the team behind No Horizon, and find  out why No Horizon should definitely be on your Fringe radar this August!

What is it about Nicholas Saunderson that makes him the ideal topic for a musical?
The great musicals tend to be about big themes, and Saunderson's story is perfect.  Yes, he was a genius mathematician but that's almost secondary.  It's his character that makes his story so inspiring. The man had nothing in his favour.  He'd lost his eyes as a one year old, Braille didn't yet exist, he came from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and yet he refused to accept his lot.  No Horizon is about a dream, it's about courage, passion and love.  And it's about taking on the world.  Add to that the fact that it's a true, but cruelly forgotten story, and it pretty much demanded to be written.

American founding father Alexander Hamilton’s life story is currently the topic of Broadway’s biggest musical, it looks as if historical musicals are making a comeback. Why do you think audiences in 2016 are so hungry for musicals about the past?
I don't think the appetite ever disappeared, it's just that producers have been cautious, preferring to play safe with shows which have already been in the public eye, perhaps in a different format;  hence the procession of shows using the music of pop acts.  They're great fun, and a guaranteed crowd pleaser so the risk is limited. It does seem the tide is now turning however, and the enormous success of various period TV pieces has certainly  helped remind people how the public love this type of production. 

What are you hoping audience reactions will be like? And what will audiences take away from the show? 
We want audiences to come away moved and entertained.  It's a deeply touching story, and I don't think you can leave the theatre unaffected.  On top of that though, we want people to be inspired in their own lives.  Saunderson's tale can bring hope where there is none.  It shines a light on what is possible.   

What can musical theatre enthusiast Fringe audiences expect from the music of ‘Yorkshire’s Les Mis’? 
Yes, No Horizon has been dubbed the 'Yorkshire Les Mis', and there is something in that, but it's certainly not derivative. I think the similarity is the genre - it's historical, it's about big themes, and the music has similar sweeping orchestrated melodies including big ballads and stirring, powerful numbers.  The music sits together as a piece.  It's certainly not a combination of different styles.

What are the plans for this production of No Horizon post-Edinburgh?
We are viewing Edinburgh as both an end in itself, and also as a launchpad for the future.  We want the world to know about Nicholas Saunderson, and are aiming for a subsequent national tour, and big things beyond.