NEIL John Gibson believes life as an actor is all about the journey, the chance to enjoy an incredible range of experiences, meet fascinating people, whether working alongside Andrew Scott at the National in London, or Billy Mack in Kirkcaldy.

Yet, his journey to becoming an actor reveals an incredible change of direction.

Gibson was a 25-year-old marketing manager when he found himself taking on a new job in Newcastle. But not knowing anyone in the town he felt isolated. “By coincidence, I found myself living across from the People’s Theatre [the north of England’s most successful amateur outfit] and there was an ad looking for interested parties to appear in panto.

“I had nothing else to do at night and figured it would be a good way to meet people. And you know, I loved the whole experience and decided from that moment I wanted to become an actor.”

Gibson’s transformation from marketing guru to theatrical didn’t quite come about as quickly as a fairy godmother wish. The day job wasn’t jettisoned immediately as he transferred back to Scotland, joined the Apollo Players and then signed up for the RSAMD.

But all that suggested acting, rather than marketing, must have been in soul? “I think it was,” he says, grinning. “I’d always loved films as a wee boy when I was growing up [in Kirkintilloch] and I did lots of creative stuff at primary school.

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“In my first year at high school, St Ninian’s, there was a school production of Grease, and I appeared in the chorus. But the shows stopped after that.” So, he never got the chance to show Kirkie his Danny Zuko? “I never did, but to be honest I may not have landed the part anyway,” he says, laughing. “I think I’m more likely to have been cast as [the gullible nerd] Eugene.”

But since turning his back on business and focusing on showbiz, Gibson has had made the most of every opportunity to reveal his latent talent, including a five-year panto stint playing dame at the Howden Centre in Livingstone. He has also turned to writing, creating the acclaimed play With You in the Distance, set in late 1800s and featuring a meeting in Glasgow between two young men, a fish worker and a Spanish sailor. The men are gay. And the play, essentially a love story, explores how they have come to terms with their sexuality during an incredibly repressive time.

The Herald: Snow White and the Seven Maws rehearsalsSnow White and the Seven Maws rehearsals (Image: Òran Mór)

“It’s all part of the journey,” says Gibson, of his play. “Six years ago, I’d never have imagined I could have opened up and written a story such as this. And the response was fantastic, from people who could empathise.”

Right now, however, Gibson is in rehearsals for his latest panto, Snow White and the Seven Maws, (no dwarfs in this one) written by Johnny McKnight and directed by Martin McCormick. We learn that Snow White has just found out that not only has her dad, the King, remarried – but he’s also gone and died.

And the Wicked Stepmother has decreed that nanny – Hedda Lettuce (Gibson) is to take Snow White into the woods and have her killed to death.

How does the actor feel that the dame role has altered in recent years? “Well, I’m aware the dame is a man dressed as a woman. But it could be problematic. You don’t want to upset the transgender community. “And you don’t want to be mocking women. For example, I hate to see a panto dame talk about five o’clock shadows.

The Herald: Snow White and the Seven Maws rehearsalsSnow White and the Seven Maws rehearsals (Image: Oran Mor)

“Really, it has to be about playing the character as big and brash. It’s about getting the fun out of the role, and it’s about reading an audience and getting a sense of how far you can go. And as she’s a nanny who loves Snow White, it’s also about finding the tenderness in her. And the writer Johnny has done that so brilliantly.”

Neil John Gibson has learned over the years that great fun can be had with the audience.

“The thing we like to do is pick a guy in the audience and flirt with them. Get them to marry me.”

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He produces a wicked laugh that’s straight out of the stepmother playbook. “In all the years I’ve only had two men who weren’t so happy. One of them actually left at half time, but it gave me lots of material for the second half.”

Now that’s he up there on stage, starring in panto, does he feel he has arrived? “No, I don’t think you ever arrive in the acting world,” he says with a thoughtful smile. “In this creative world it’s all about the experience. And the experience I’m having at the moment is fantastic.”

Snow White and the Seven Maws, Oran Mor, Glasgow, November 28-January 6

The chance to see the awesome combination that is Allan Stewart (his 27th time playing the dame in the Scottish capital; his first time on the panto stage was in 1975, at the Pavilion Theatre in Glasgow, and he’d never seen a panto up to that point). Stewart again teams up with Grant Stott and Jordan Young, this time in The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, November 25–December 31.