Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial review – courtroom panto

Wyndham’s theatre, London
Laura Dos Santos and Lucy May Barker are excellent as the frenemies in a queasy verbatim drama

From the moment Coleen Rooney dropped her Instagram post (“It’s … Rebekah Vardy’s account”) to the subsequent libel case which saw Vardy publicly hoist by her own petard, the “Wagatha Christie” trial was destined for at least one second life in dramatic form.

Here is the first, faithful iteration based on court transcripts and produced at speed for a West End audience. It seems like good timing in light of the World Cup though there is very little about football here – just a cameo court appearance from Wayne Rooney, played by Nathan McMullen, and a few (too many) sporting metaphors.

This is a tale of sleuthing, social media, fame and frenemies in all its lurid detail. Directed by Lisa Spirling, Liv Hennessy’s adaptation gives us nothing more than we know, but nothing less either. If its cross-examinations do not have the razor tension they should – the details were fed to us in daily news reports only this summer, after all – they engage us with their grisly voyeurism.

Both women convene on stage at the start: Vardy (Lucy May Barker) is booed and hissed, while Rooney (Laura Dos Santos), amid cheers and claps, appears with the surgical boot she wore on the first day of the trial. It feels like a modern-day pantomime indeed, enacting the court case with WhatsApp messages read aloud by the women under spotlight in the witness box.

Polly Sullivan’s set is a tacky courtroom cum football pitch and the drama is interrupted by a pair of football pundits who serve, rather gratingly, as narrators. But the performances are excellent, especially Barker’s as Vardy, who is deadpan and insouciant until the last. She comes across as an implacable force in sunglasses whose forgetfulness in the witness box resembles a teenage strop.

Dos Santos gives a far straighter performance but the two-act drama becomes slower in the second half when it is her turn to testify: Vardy really does have all the best lines.

Transposing the story to the stage reveals its class snobberies more emphatically too; the Rooneys’ exaggerated Liverpudlian accents seem designed to be laughed at (and they are on press night), as are lines highlighting Vardy’s lack of knowledge of the term “Davy Jones’s locker”. This feels like sneery middle-class entertainment at the expense of these two women.

It becomes a parable for our social media age: we see the function of Instagram in the women’s lives, its interconnections with the press, and our avid consumption of both. But there is a deeper level of queasiness over whether this is a story of modern-day sleuthing or an older, more lurid tale of two successful women, pitted against each other, tearing each other down.


Arifa Akbar

The GuardianTramp