It was a remarkable experience, in the summer of this year, to accompany writer and performer Neil John Gibson on a walking performance of his solo play, With You In The Distance. The journey began at the Briggait in Glasgow, the handsome building beside the river that is now an arts hub, but opened in 1873 as the city’s main fish market.
In With You In the Distance, set in the year 1888, the Briggait is imagined as the workplace of one of the two men in Gibson’s story, Stuart, an increasingly successful young fish merchant; but the story did not rest there, as Gibson led his his one-person audience along the riverside and into Glasgow Green, the much-loved city park where Stuart and Anselmo – a seaman from northern Spain spending time in Glasgow between voyages – quickly become lovers, after a few days of increasingly intense friendship.
Despite its intense lyricism, though, With You In The Distance is no simple love story; and gradually, it darkens into a true tragedy, in which all the repression and self-hatred of men who have grown up gay in societies where homosexuality is regarded as an abomination, return to destroy their brief moment of happiness.
In this extract from the show, filmed at Glasgow Green, Gibson recreates the moment in the story when Stuart and Anselmo first become lovers, despite barely having words to describe their love. In Glasgow this summer, the story was also told at some performances by actor Ciaran Stewart, who presented it in both English and British Sign Language, bringing an added dimension to the story; and the whole 55 minute play is now available to hear as an audio version.
Gibson is a Glasgow-based actor who grew up in the west of Scotland, and trained at the East 15 Acting School in London. He has been working as an actor for for more than a decade, and early this year co-devised and performed in Ben Harrison’s Chalk Walk in Edinburgh, a solo walking show with a single audience member which was one of very few live theatre events to take place in Scotland during last winter’s lockdown, and which helped to inspire the format of With You In The Distance; he is also about to appear in this year’s Traverse Theatre Christmas play, Wilf.
Now, though, Gibson is increasingly finding his voice as a writer; and in With You In The Distance, he certainly created one of the most memorable theatrical experiences of this pandemic year, woven into the physical fabric of the city of Glasgow, and also into the untold history of the gay men and women who made their lives there, long before their love could begin, at last, to dare to speak its name.
With You In The Distance available as an audio play on Spotify at https://open.spotify.com/episode/060F3OjkMEUlujRkCglqDc and on other streaming services.
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