THE AYES HAVE IT! THE AYES HAVE IT!at Leicester Square Theatre
“Lots of drama from prepared scripts, but also lots clever of ad libs from the performers when the heckling from the floor got too intense.”
The Ayes Have It! The Ayes Have It! is an unusual piece of theatre, but an engaging piece of politics. After a successful debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2023, the show moved to the Leicester Square Theatre in London for a night. Staged as a mock Parliamentary debate, moderated by former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, producer Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, a member of the Scottish Alba Party, and a former actress, has put together an unlikely coalition of performers in The Ayes Have It! The Ayes Have It!. Presenting the motion “This House believes Brexit is a disaster and must be reversed,” the teams were led by Alex Salmond, leader of Alba for the “Ayes”, and Conservative MP David Davis for the “Noes.” The theatre was packed with a boisterous audience eager to see the participants, and to participate themselves.
It wasn’t until the performers walked on stage that I actually believed these were the people they claimed to be, and not a group of extremely skilled impersonators hired for the evening. Was I right to be skeptical? After all, the Leicester Square Theatre is known for its comedy club presentations, and presentations of classical theatre that tend towards the uproariously outrageous. So when Alex Salmond, businesswoman Gina Miller, and Andrew Marr of LBC Radio, David Davis, MP, Mike Graham of TalkTV, Baroness Claire Fox and John Bercow entered, the moment was, without doubt, a “coup de théâtre.” But wait. There was in fact, a gifted impersonator on hand to step in for Andrew Marr who was still broadcasting when the show began. Later, the same impersonator, Lewis Macleod, stepped in for Mike Graham, when he had to leave for the same reason. Macleod also heckled, very effectively, from the floor, in a variety of characters. These theatrical moments kept the evening moving along, and the audience engaged.
There were also two other participants on either side of the debate, and in many ways—acknowledged by both sides—these were the two most important people on stage. Year 13 students Cora and Dominic, from the Chestnut Grove Academy in South West London, made their debate debuts. As Speaker Bercow observed, after speaking in front of a crowd of five hundred (mostly) strangers, they need never be frightened of public speaking again. Kudos to the students for getting involved, and also for teaching their elders a thing or two about how young people see politics today. Not suprisingly, Generations Z and Alpha have very different priorities from those generations who are older.
Politics aside, how successful was The Ayes Have It! The Ayes Have It! as a piece of theatre? The evening went as expected. The audience were, for the most part, well behaved, given the incendiary comments regarding Brexit that issued continuously from the stage. Lots of drama from prepared scripts, but also lots clever of ad libs from the performers when the heckling from the floor got too intense. Even Bercow’s familiar fixed epithetical admonishments were unable to quiet the crowd from time to time. Media experience paid off handsomely, however. Alex Salmond, Andrew Marr, Mike Graham and Claire Fox showed their skills both in debate, and engaging with the audience. Gina Miller was less certain, though gained in confidence as the evening progressed. David Davis maintained a quietly confident air even when challenged on his own part in the real life drama now known as Brexit. Last, but certainly not least, Cora from Chestnut Grove Academy showed she can hold her own with the seasoned politicians on stage. If her fellow student Dominic appeared less certain, he made up for it with engaging charm, and an honest assessment of his own skills. More power (in the best sense) to them both in future.
The Ayes Have It! The Ayes Have It! gets my vote over an evening reading Hansard. Producer Sheikh-Ahmed deserves acclaim for coming up with such a clever way to engage young people in politics. If this show comes to your home town, book a ticket, take your friends, and come prepared to heckle with the best of them.
THE AYES HAVE IT! THE AYES HAVE IT! at Leicester Square Theatre
Reviewed on 21st November 2023
by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Alex Todd
(taken at Edinburgh Festival Fringe performance)
Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Ayes Have It
The Ayes Have It