Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial ★★★★★

Vardy v Ronney sees the notorious 2022 court war of the WAGs hitting the West End as a verbatim production of the High Court trial

2022 saw the Russian invasion of Ukraine triggering the first major conflict on continental Europe since WW2. The same year witnessed huge political instability in the UK with the incumbent Prime Minister being forced to resign by his own party followed by an internecine leadership contest to settle who would succeed him. And yet the story that dominated the tabloid front pages (and even spilled over onto the broadsheets’ headlines too – yes, we saw you, The Times) was a libel trial between two footballers’ wives.

The road to the trial essentially began when Coleen Rooney (wife of footballer, Wayne) began to suspect that one of her friends was leaking private information as stories to The Sun newspaper. She began fabricating stories on her private Instagram account and limiting who could see each one. When the tabloid ran pieces on how the basement of their house had flooded, that she was flying to Mexico “to make a baby girl” and that she intended to appear on Strictly Come Dancing, Coleen came to a startling conclusion. “It’s…….Rebekah Vardy’s account”.

This “gotcha” accusation was tweeted publicly, launching the whole Wagatha Christie saga. Vardy initially denied that she was responsible, claiming that Rooney’s Instagram account must have been hacked. By June 2022, Rebekah had launched a defamation action in the High Court against her former friend . Drawing from the transcript of the seven-day trial, the case forms the basis of this new production, Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial

Verbatim theatre typically has rather serious subject matter. Committee, for example, was a 2017 musical at the Donmar Warehouse based on oral evidence before the The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee about the collapse of the Kids Company charity. London Road famously took verbatim accounts of the residents whose homes became embroiled in Steve Wright’s serial murders of local prostitutes to explore how ‘ordinary’ people experience a high-profile crime. Going in, there is the expectation that Vardy v Rooney might be rather light subject matter. 

And to an extent this expectation is borne out but not to the detriment of the piece.

Vardy v Rooney mines the superficial world of wags for all its comic worth. The stage is set, half-courtroom, half-football pitch, for the arrival of the title characters. Rooney hobbles on, the incongruous giant foot brace in place. Vardy sweeps in to a spontaneous reaction of boos from the audience, immediately making clear from the start where sympathies lie.

Ahead of the trial itself, we are introduced to our guides to the case, presented as two football pundits delivering the breathless clichés of TV footie commentators. It’s a clever and amusing framing device to ensure the selected highlights of the court transcript are contextualised. And who wouldn’t want a VAR replay of a key piece of testimony!

The first act is dominated by the 4 Days of testimony from Rebekah Vardy. Lucy May Barker is hilariously defiant as the slippery Vardy, making one implausible claim after another. Slipping between the evasive courtroom performance and the gloating malice of her private WhatsApp messages to her agent Caroline Watt, there is a delicious exposing of Vardy’s public and private personas . From selling intimate details of Peter Andre (spawning the headline “I’ve got a chipolata, get me out of here”) to inveigling her way to sit behind Rooney at the 2016 Euros to raise her profile, to arranging secretly for a paparazzi photographer to snap the WAGs on the way to a restaurant at the 2018 World Cup, she is depicted as a shameless, fame-hungry Lady MacBeth in Dior sunglasses.

Adaptor Liv Hennessy makes a fine job of combing through 1200 pages of court transcripts to ensure every jaw-dropping, did-she-really-say-that zinger is present and correct. As a former TV soap opera story editor, she has a superb ear for honing dialogue to deliver the immediacy of character. While the first Act is all bathos, it is a game of two halves (Jeff). 

After the interval, the play moves to the testimony from Coleen Rooney. Laura Dos Santos nails Mrs Rooney’s disarming directness and endearing earnestness in her testimony. Whether helpfully explaining to her opposing barrister how to google herself or her fondness for extended ellipsis (“I use dots a lot”), there’s an obvious lack of guile in her testimony. Speaking with Coleen’s trademark heavy Liverpudlian brogue, she details her plan to catch which of her inner circle was betraying her confidence, it’s less The Mousetrap and more the Scouse Trap. 

While Vardy v Rooney exploits the vacuousness of the celebrity world for big laughs, Coleen’s testimony introduces pathos into the proceedings, revealing the underlying human feelings at betrayal. From Coleen and Wayne both being papped at age 16 to her feeling homesick for her family when based in the United States, the picture of a more stoic woman emerges rather than the glamorous, carefree Wag. There’s an emotional punch from the unlikely source of Wayne Rooney’s evidence. Gloriously unaware of the social media goings-on, what the footballer does reveal is poignant: “I’ve watched my wife over the last two years becoming a different mother, a different wife”. 

Hennessey’s script slyly lures the audience into perceiving as the villain of the piece. There is a hubristic delight in unmasking her unabashed secret dealings with the tabloids. When she details the online abuse she has received, the audience laughs as she says she’s been called an “evil, rat-faced bitch”. But when she immediately adds she was told to “put her baby into an incinerator” the laughter stops and the realisation that we are complicit in her abuse for our own pleasure hits hard. 

Director Lisa Spirling‘s production is pacey and direct. The laughs are on target, but more depthful messages about human failings and culpability are stealthily carried through like a OneLove armband into a Qatar stadium. The cast of seven are excellent: as well as the two perfect leads, Nathan McMullen and Sharan Phull are energetic as our pundit hosts and Tom Turner excelling as David Sherborne, Rooney’s charismatic lawyer.

It’s rare to find verbatim theatre a hoot but Vardy v Rooney is an enjoyable, unmissable production that’s top of the table. 

What new play is both gripping and hilarious? It’s dot dot dot, dot dot dot, dot Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial – The Recs awards ★ (5 stars)

Vardy V Rooney Tickets

Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial runs at the Wyndhams Theatre on

Tues 29th November 2022

Tues 6th December 2022

Tues 13th December 2022

Tues 20th December 2022

Book Tickets