Rent cast turn lemons into lemonade after homophobe brazenly storms out of performance

Two actors play Angel and Tom Collins in the Bite My Thumb production of Rent

An actor in a British production of beloved musical Rent is speaking out after an upset audience member left the show because it was “about gays”.

A weekend matinee performance of the hit musical was interrupted after an audience member left the Leeds’ Carriagework Theatre auditorium. When questioned by the front of house staff, the theatre-goer declared: “I didn’t realise this show was about gays,” according to community arts group Bite My Thumb.

Mikey May, who plays Tom Collins, told PinkNews that it wasn’t a “dramatised” event because the cast “didn’t even know it happened” at first because everyone was so “engrossed” in acting. 

He explained there is a particular scene where his character meets Angel (played by Liam Garden), who comes and “picks me up off the street”. Then, he explained, there is a “little bit of flirtation” before they both go to an apartment where Angel is revealed to Collins’ friends, and they launch into the iconic hit “Today 4 U, Tomorrow 4 Me”.

“We didn’t know he’d stood up and gone,” May said. “We didn’t find out until the director came up at the interval and apologised.”

May says the disgruntled theatre-goer “went up to the box office and demanded a refund” because he didn’t “realise it was a show about the gays”. He adds the “statement itself is wrong” because he believes the show is actually about “love and relationships”. 

“There’s a cisgender straight couple,” May explained. “There’s a lot of subjectivity surrounding Tom and his relationship with Angel.

“He is going out with someone who is trans, genderfluid or a drag queen [depending on your interpretation]. There’s a lot of fluidity.

“Maureen and Joanne are a lesbian couple, but there’s not strictly a [same-sex male] gay couple.”

An actor wearing a bandana, blue-grey shirt and red vest plays Tom Collins in a production of Rent

Mikey May as Tom Collins in Bite My Thumb’s production of Rent. (Paul Cresswell, ILTO Photography).

He told PinkNews that he doesn’t have a problem with “anybody walking out of a show” because they might not like the contents of the performance. But he does “take exception” to people “walking out of a show because it highlights a different view of a different person’s life – whether that be a trans person, gay, lesbian, straight”. 

Ultimately, May said he feels “really sorry” for the theatre-goer because of his ignorance. He believes that having a conversation and getting a better understanding of that person’s viewpoint is crucial as “you don’t change anything” by “having a go with somebody because of their beliefs”. 

“Nine times out of 10, it’s born out of ignorance,” May said. “I think when people are educated and understand more about any sort of culture – whether that’s LGBTQ+, different ethnicities or race – that stigma and stereotypical what you think it is is not what it’s made up to be.”

Bite My Thumb has decided to turn the audience member’s ‘ignorance’ into change for the better by donating a percentage of that performance’s box office total to Angels of Freedom. 

Then, after the story went viral, the community arts group decided to open up its fundraising to the public, creating an online crowdfunding campaign for the LGBT+ charity. 


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May told PinkNews that the Rent production had already been raising awareness about Angels of Freedom well before the Leeds incident. He said there was a stall in the foyer of the Leeds show that highlighted the initiative’s work and provided people with “information and stuff like that about the charity that we’re working with”. 

“It just means that we were giving a bigger proportion than we already were,” he said.

Angels of Freedom provides support like social groups, activities and events for the LGBT+ community in the Freedom Quarter area of Leeds.

Thus far, the campaign has raised more than £1,000 to help out the LGBT+ community-based initiative, and the Rent production will continue to raise awareness as they perform in the coming weeks in Hull and York.