“‘Leaps off the page’ doesn’t even accurately describe the feeling,” said director Noah Alfred Pantano. “It’s more than that. It’s knowing there’s something here. This is a script that needs to be put on.”

This is a show that is touching the hearts and minds of audiences great and small. Developed from a creative writing master’s dissertation piece, Alice K Stephens didn’t dare to dream bigger than a staged reading; director Noah Alfred Pantano always knew it could go much further. And he was right.

The pair built a stellar cast with varying strengths and experience, searching for a trans woman to play Emily, a young girl navigating the challenges of coming out as trans to her family, friends, and workplace. Audrey Thompson is a fantastic lead, especially for a woman for whom this is her acting debut. The ensemble plays a host of characters that affect Emily’s life, weaving a tapestry of experiences around her with threads that are equal parts sad and heartwarming. Robyn Faye offers warmth and grounding as Emily’s best friend Sarah; Joe Eason is a defining and fleeting love interest named Kyle, and hilarious and tragic as Aunt Jean; and Isobel Sheard brings a brilliantly considered and wholly necessary performance as Emily’s sexist and transphobic boss.

              Since its sold-out staged reading at Patch Colchester, where it also gained a 9.5 audience rating, Spit It Out has been to the Vaults in London and the Lakeside Theatre at the University of Essex, where most of the cast studied. Now, next door to the room where they later laughed and danced together for the shoot for this feature, Alice, Noah, Audrey, Robyn, and Isobel share their excitement for the Brighton Fringe this month. Talking easily together with a natural comfort that can only come from shared experiences, they describe how they each came to be part of the team to create something brilliant and bold. They’ve never looked back.

When Alice K Stephens revealed she had a script for a play, answering questions at the end of a poetry reading she’d just performed in a local café, she didn’t expect the response. Patch Colchester, a café proud to host LGBTQ+ events (Drag and Desserts, Mind Full of Pride) immediately invited her back to produce a staged reading of her script. Alice knew she wanted Noah to direct, whom she’d shared classes with on her master’s course and had his own success as the writer and director of Standing on a Nail, a queer horror story.

Noah Alfred Pantano had been “begging” Alice K Stephens to direct her play since he read the first draft of Spit It Out months earlier, when Alice submitted it for her master’s dissertation in creative writing.

“It’s very rare you get a script that comes off the page, especially when it’s been undeveloped and hasn’t gone through a whole process like Alice’s script at the time,” Noah shared emphatically. “Even in the early days it was a strong script, and its only continued to get stronger.”

Spit It Out has been a success at every step of its journey so far. Exploring loneliness and themes which continue to resonate with audiences who have largely been straight and cis thus far, the cast is gearing up for the Brighton Fringe this May—the second largest Fringe Festival in the UK.

“I think it’s lovely to see trans authenticity in what is otherwise a very artificial environment.”

“When I heard Noah and Alice needed a trans woman for this part… well, there’s only so many of us in Colchester!” Audrey Thompson (Emily) laughed. “I’ve really loved the opportunity to live in someone else’s work and bring it to life, and to bring a piece of myself to it.”

Audrey continued: “So much of what Emily is as a character is hiding her deep, profound loneliness and sadness behind making fun of herself and her struggles. There are comedic and sarcastic lines at the end of a monologue about how dreadful her life is, and she snaps it off with a little joke. By the end of the play, you get more scenes where she’s sat alone and there’s a lot less jokes, and she’s actually being genuine with herself, which is what the whole story is about for her.”

Audrey’s lack of acting experience appealed to Noah and Alice in making their casting decision, with the team working to incorporate adjusting to the stage with the awkwardness of her character.

Alice said: “I like the idea that Audrey hasn’t been through all this professional training, and I like that it’s a very raw performance from her. I think it’s lovely to see trans authenticity in what is otherwise a very artificial environment.”

Alice added: “One thing I’ve learnt from being involved in the theatre making process is that there is not a lot of trans representation on stage right now. I would really struggle to think of five plays where there is either a trans lead or a significant trans character that are currently on stages in the UK.”

Alice explained that trans women face more barriers to acting, such as with a lack of demand and a pay gap which likely leads to trans women having to work more hours than the average worker.

“If you’re looking at that space as a transgender woman who maybe wants to act, the demand isn’t there for you,” Alice said. “And that’s one of the things that I’m really happy we’re challenging with this play, because hopefully Emily’s role shows that actually trans lives are interesting, there is not a set story.”

“The three of them all play a variety of roles, so they’re not stuck just playing this one thing—they’re playing ten different things.”

The supporting ensemble of characters create experiences that affect Emily’s life, which was originally written for two actors, and then expanded to three after Joe Eason (Two Come Home) was cast, and Noah and Alice wanted to keep both Isobel Sheard (The S is Silent) and Robyn Faye (Les Enfants Terribles).

Noah said: “The three of them all play a variety of roles, so they’re not stuck just playing this one thing—they’re playing ten different things.”

He continued: “I think it takes a lot of bravery from the performers, especially with some of the characters Isobel was thrust with and ones that Joe was thrust with—Robyn, you can go screw yourself!” He laughed as Robyn joined in, saying she felt “very lucky” with her role as Emily’s best friend.

“When I was auditioning, I really hoped that I’d get to play Sarah,” Robyn shared with a smile. “It was such a joy, because the two characters are so complimentary to each other in a way that there’s such a purpose to the journey. I wanted to make it truthful and real, and to focus on the connection between Emily and Sarah in that they were growing together, because they did have their ups and downs, but she does have Emily’s best interests at heart.”

She continued: “It manifests in different ways in this wonderful world Alice has created with all these different characters, where some of them only pop in for a moment and you get to be quite bold with them.”

Another ensemble character is Emily’s Aunt Jean, played by Joe Eason. The character is played for comedy up until her final scene, where Emily comes out to her as trans. Noah shared that while early versions of the show continued the laughs, he decided it needed to become serious: “This is our gut punch scene.”

“When I read the script, that was the most devastating scene and I think the most powerful one, because when Aunt Jean stands up and rejects Emily’s transness it’s not what you expect in that moment,” Noah said. “In most plays and maybe a weaker play, it would’ve been that moment where she’s told “I love you for who you are!” It’s the Heartstopper moment.

“We made this a much more still scene, where Emily reaches out, and Aunt Jean stands up and leaves, saying nothing,” Noah continued. “That scene is really powerful now, and it’s one of the turning points where Emily begins to stop looking for other people to validate her identity. It’s the key moment for her to make the turn to validate herself and to say, ‘I’m going to be the woman I need to be.’”

Alice said: “I think this is a play that’s good at showing there’s so many trans stories left to be told and to be told in interesting ways. Just as Emily encounters some difficulties, you will encounter so many transgender women who didn’t encounter those difficulties. You will encounter people whose families did accept them. You will encounter people whose workplace was actually incredibly accepting.”

Emily’s boss, played by Isobel, is another ensemble character and perhaps the most challenging of them all due to his sexist, transphobic, homophobic nature.

Isobel said: “It definitely didn’t feel good to say the things I had to do, because he is so painfully sexist and transphobic. Unfortunately, there are people who share the opinions of the boss, and I feel like this script would’ve had less weight to it if it didn’t show these opinions, because it wouldn’t highlight the backlash that queer and trans people face by simply existing.”

The backlash is indeed a reality. When the Lakeside Theatre on the University of Essex campus began promoting their LGBTQ+ history month event in February, showcasing queer works Spit It Out, Two Come Home, and Protest, workers faced homophobic abuse when handing out flyers, and posters for Two Come Home in particular were found torn down and defaced.  

“Definitely as a performer, I was scared,” Isobel said. “I was scared to be in the show—and by no means was I going to quit, but it definitely rattled me.”

They continued: “It took off the rose-coloured glasses for me that this isn’t just a fun play that I’m in, this is a powerful piece, and you forget that it’s a political piece we’re creating.”

The cast’s determination to continue with their show in the face of such abuse speaks volumes: about their strength, their dedication as performers, their commitment to telling this story, and the power of the LGBTQ+ community.

“It does suck a great deal that our community has experienced this pushback and this bigoty,” Audrey said, “but it has been heartening on the flipside to see the support that we received in the aftermath of it, and the efforts that Noah and Alice have gone to protect us and try and take care of us. While it’s easy to forget that problems like these are still so prevalent like Isobel said, it’s been nice to see that a defensive line has been held. There is a sense of community here and we’re all in it to protect each other.”

“This wonderful world Alice has created with all these different characters…some of them only pop in for a moment.”

Spit It Out has been widely acclaimed by each audience so far, which Alice recognises has been mostly comprised of people who are cisgender.

“This isn’t written to appease or appeal to a cis perspective. This isn’t written to plead our case and ask people to accept this woman,” Alice explained. “What it’s doing is hopefully connecting on that theme of loneliness and that fear of being alone, because I think that is universal and extends beyond the trans experience.

“I think really, that’s what’s resonated with people. And it’s been so lovely being there in the room and hearing those laughs, and I’ve heard afterwards about how people have found it poignant. It’s been amazing.”

Alice described her favourite reaction, which took place at a Vaults performance in London in February, when Emily is experiencing one of the hardest parts of her journey and reflecting on it alone.

“Audrey looks at the audience and says, ‘Can someone just call me Emily?’” Alice recalls. “And somebody in the audience did! And it was so sweet! For me it was a real highlight of everything that we’ve done so far.”

“It’s been really heartening to see such a positive response in all the ways that we have, to a very trans story from a largely cis audience, especially one that is very raw, very personal, very from the heart,” Audrey said.

She continued: “As a new actress, it’s been a really weird experience to have complete strangers say, ‘You were brilliant!’ It makes me realise, why would a strange say that if they didn’t mean it? It’s been a really strange experience but a really positive one.”

“Welcome to acting,” Isobel laughed, “that’s when you get hooked: when strangers start complimenting you!”

The team are looking forward to their Brighton Fringe performance, which they are only able to do because of funding support and donations from their communities. By partnering with Two Come Home, which Noah also directs and Joe Eason wrote, scored, and stars in, the two plays are able to afford accommodation, registration, and deposit for the venue.

Alice said excitedly: “It’s certainly a jump, but I think where we are on the journey, we’re ready to take this play from the high end of an amateur production into a no-budget professional. I’m very happy with where we are right now, and this might well set us up for some good stuff from the arts council.”

She continued, “Noah and I have been going back and forth about whether we want to move to the Camden Fringe as well, and we’re excited for it. We’ve realised the play works best in small spaces because we want the energy to bounce off every wall. However at Camden—and this can be so exciting—”

Alice turned to Audrey, Robyn, and Isobel. “—how would you guys feel like playing at a bigger theatre in the round?”


“That would be fun!”

“I think it would be amazing in the rounds,” Robyn said, “because it’s so playful with the audience, and there’s only so much you can do that when its head-on.”

Alice answered: “Right? Exactly. I’ve always wanted to play in the rounds…”

Spit It Out will be in the Rotunda Theatre Brighton: Squeak for Brighton Fringe from 22nd-26th of May.

For the five-performance Fringe run, the Spit It Out cast will see some changes and some new faces.

Emily will be played by Willow MacDonald, an actress from London who’s excited to join the cast. Her previous credits include productions of 11 Miles and PECs.

Jamie Coenen will be Aunt Jean, Kyle, and ensemble roles.

Isobel will play Sarah and ensemble roles; Joe Eason will play the Boss and ensemble roles.

Tickets for Spit It Out, Brighton Fringe, can be found for £10 here: Spit It Out – Brighton Fringe

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