Theatre

‘Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial’ review – Verbatim staging of libel case comments on the comedy of its contradiction

★★★★

It’s… actually rather good. There’s no denying that two WAGs arguing over an Instagram post in such a formal setting as court, and the subsequent West End play about the trial, is quite incredible, but this production – only on for a handful of performances before finishing in January – cleverly embraces the humour which comes with such a bizarre juxtaposition.

Liv Hennessy’s adaptation from the High Court transcript still keeps the courtroom dialogue verbatim, and its directness is hilarious – not least in pronouncing every ‘dot’ in Colleen Rooney’s Instagram reveal post back in 2019, alleging Rebekah Vardy had been leaking stories about her to The Sun.

Laura Dos Santos plays Rooney, a self-assured woman whose candid explanations of how she uses Google and Instagram to Vardy’s lawyer Hugh Tomlinson KC (Jonathan Broadbent) are amusing in their simplicity. Similarly, Lucy May Barker’s Vardy delivers most of her lines with a smug, exaggerated smile at the end, only for the complainant to question who Davy Jones is and ask the judge for permission to explain what FFS stands for. Two footballers’ wives trying to maintain their confidence and stature amid particular cross-examinations awash with silly similes makes for unbelievable viewing.

With Vardy v Rooney sharing the Wyndham’s stage with its regular resident, Life of Pi, the set design from Polly Sullivan is understandably minimalist, limited to a couple of chairs, gates, white walls and a green football pitch floor. It doesn’t hold back from the comparisons to “the beautiful game”, as judge Mrs Justice Steyn (Charlotte Randie) wears a whistle around her neck and Rooney’s barrister David Sherborne (Tom Turner) mimes taking a shot after poking holes in Vardy’s evidence.

It’s harmless hyperbole, but it has its moments. The creation of two media pundits (Nathan McMullen and Sharan Phull) is only partly effective. They occasionally provide useful background to what isn’t mentioned in the selected quotes from the transcription, as well as some of the legalese (the ‘public interest’ versus what is in the interest of the public), but it falters for the most part with unnecessary puns and repetition, emphasising moments of interest and trying out jokes for a second time – just in case the ‘dot’ gag wasn’t funny at first.

The repeating of important lines from the trial is far more casual and acceptable when the lawyers do it (it’s a common tactic of theirs, after all), but when it’s the pundits, it’s grating. Their characters are almost completely redundant, and it’s the actual courtroom drama which is far more intriguing, amid the search for what exactly is the public’s interest in this most unusual case. The answer, at least the one proposed by Hennessy and director Lisa Spurling in this restaging, is just how elaborate and dramatic Rooney’s operation became as a result of one Instagram post, the curious blurring of lines between entertainment and investigative procedures. The creative team knows this, as even in the final scenes, an element of mystery remains as the unsuccessful Vardy walks off the stage.

The decision to put on a play about Wagatha Christie may prompt cynicism from some questioning its long-term relevancy, but this production actively encourages us to accept the unfathomable details of the trial, and succeeds in having us laugh at the many clashes it created. The debate and popularity around the case still continues, but in Vardy v Rooney it is clear that the dramatics make for classic theatre.

Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial is now playing select performances at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 10 January 2023. These are 6, 13 and 20 December and 10 January 2023.

It will then transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre from 7 April to 20 May, before going on tour to Woking, Liverpool, Southend, Salford and Brighton.


Production Images: Tristram Kenton.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.

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