History forgot genius scientist Nicholas Saunderson but musical will tell his story

Adam Martyn: partially sighted actor who will play 18th century blind scientist Nicholas Saunderson in No Horizon next year

NO Horizon, a new musical that tells the forgotten story of a Yorkshire maths genius, will tour to York Theatre Royal next April after more than a decade in the making.

Andy Platt’s show is inspired by the life of Nicholas Saunderson, a blind scientist and mathematician from the West Riding village of Thurlstone, near Penistone, who overcame impossible odds to become a Cambridge professor and friend of royalty.

Often described as an 18th century Stephen Hawking, Saunderson was born in 1862 and by the age of one he was blinded by smallpox. In an era before Braille, it is said he taught himself to read by running his fingers over the gravestones in a local churchyard.

He learned Latin and Greek and became Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge, a post also held by Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage and the aforementioned Stephen Hawking. 

In his day, Saunderson spent time with kings and queens and had a reputation that spread across Europe. Remarkably, his field of expertise was not in mathematical equations, but in lecturing about optics.

It is thought that Saunderson, who was elected a member of the Royal Society, may have been the earliest discoverer of Bayes’ theorem, a mathematical formula for determining conditional probability.

A past performance of No Horizon, set to be revived on a northern tour in 2020

Described by singer and BBC Radio Two presenter Elaine Paige as “one to watch out for”, Platt’s musical will run in York on April 9 and 11 – no performance on Good Friday – as part of its 2020 northern tour mounted by Right Hand Theatre, in the wake of an Edinburgh Fringe run in 2016.

The show was first written in 2003 by Platt, a former headmaster who rediscovered Saunderson’s remarkable journey after it was forgotten by history. 

“Saunderson’s achievement as the Stephen Hawking of his day was phenomenal,” says the writer and producer. “I wanted No Horizon to entertain and move the audience at the same time as restoring Saunderson to his rightful place as a national icon. Next year’s tour is the culmination of a 15-year dream.”

The lead role of Saunderson will be played by the partially sighted Adam Martyn, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, who trained at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.

He will be on the road in the 2020 tour from March 19, when No Horizon opens at The Civic, Barnsley, the nearest major theatre near to Saunderson’s birthplace.

The poster for next spring’s tour of No Horizon by Right Hand Theatre

After further shows there on March 20 and 21, the tour will head on to the Viaduct Theatre, Halifax, March 26 to 28; Leeds City Varieties, March 31 and April 1; Cast, Doncaster, April 2 to 4; Harrogate Theatre, April 7 and 8; York Theatre Royal, April 9 and 11, and Millgate Arts Centre, Delph, Saddleworth, April 15.

Helen Reid, producer at Right Hand Theatre, says: “I’m so excited we’ve managed to pull off and organise a northern tour. It’s only taken over a decade to do it!

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of our fan base at the Edinburgh Fringe and locally, to help bring the show to a wider audience. 

“We look forward to seeing our old fans and new fans alike at any of the northern venues. The support we’ve had so far from the public and celebrities has been immensely rewarding for Andy and the producers. We thank them all.”

The 2020 tour is funded by Arts Council England and Foyle Foundation, co-commissioned by Cast, Doncaster, and The Civic, Barnsley, and supported by Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind.

York tickets are on sale on 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk; Leeds, 0113 243 0808 or cityvarieties.co.uk; Harrogate, 01423 502116 or at harrogatetheatre.co.uk.

Charles Hutchinson