Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial – Ambassador’s Theatre, London

Reviewer: Stephen Bates

Adapter: Liv Hennessy

Director: Lisa Spirling

Many young boys dream of growing up to become top footballers, so maybe the recent surge in the popularity of the women’s game could lead to young girls having the same dreams. Arguably, such goals would be far more admirable than targeting the seemingly vacuous lifestyles of many WAGs (wives and girlfriends of footballers) which were exposed brutally in the 2022 court case Vardy v Rooney, labelled by the media “The Wagatha Christie Trial”.

Liv Hennessy adapts the proceedings verbatim, compressing them into 90 minutes plus injury time, with a half-time break. In a nutshell, Coleen Rooney (wife of former England captain Wayne Rooney) began suspecting that posts on her private Instagram account were being leaked to the tabloid press and turned sleuth to uncover the culprit. When the finger pointed at Rebekah Vardy (wife of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy), Mrs Rooney revealed her findings on social media and Mrs Vardy sued for libel.

The play offers a running commentary from two “pundits” (Halema Hussain and Nathan McMullen), but, otherwise, the words spoken are taken from the trial itself. Jonnie Broadbent and Tom Turner struggle to keep straight faces as the opposing barristers and Verna Vyas presides over proceedings solemnly as the judge, Mrs Justice Steyn. Director Lisa Spirling realises that the transcript of the trial contains enough comedy to fill an evening and, rather than overplaying the absurdity of it all, settles for an overriding lightness of tone. Fittingly, designer Polly Sullivan’s courtroom set does not look like a place where the death sentence would ever have been handed down.

So, as the two ladies parade before us in their neat designer outfits, we ask (if we care) which of them is in the right and which is in the wrong. This production is hardly neutral, highlighting how difficult it is to avoid taking sides when the characters of real life protagonists are interpreted by actors. There is not much to like about Lucy May Barker’s waspish version of Mrs Vardy, sitting in the witness box with the demeanour of a stony faced reform school headmistress. Barker is great, but her every utterance seems to be encouraging the audience to hiss and boo as they would for the away side in a fierce cup tie.

In total contrast, Laura Dos Santos presents Mrs Rooney as smart, warm, maternal and a long suffering victim of the antics of her allegedly errant husband. If the play’s audiences were asked to vote, it is very likely that they would arrive at the same verdict as that of Mrs Justice Steyn.

The media frenzy surrounding the trial speaks loudly about a modern culture driven by social media and worthless celebrity status. Ironically, a West End play about the trial adds to the frenzy as much as it criticises it. No fiction writer could invent this; it is all so utterly ridiculous that it could only possibly be true.

Runs until 20 May 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Truly ridiculous

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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