Vardy v Rooney: ‘Wagatha Christie’ play to hit West End stage

Producer says trial asked questions about boundaries between privacy and celebrity and what it is to be a Wag

A play about the “Wagatha Christie” trial is to be staged in the West End by the producers behind Agatha Christie’s seminal drama Witness for the Prosecution.

Vardy v Rooney: the Wagatha Christie Trial, adapted from the original high court transcripts by Liv Hennessy and directed by Lisa Spirling, brings the legal battle between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney to life for one night only this autumn.

“I was fascinated by the trial,” said Eleanor Lloyd, the play’s producer and president of the Society of London Theatre, of one of the most expensive libel cases in British history. “It felt like such an extraordinary example of celebrity culture. Usually celebrity and libel trials are a bit grim, and obviously this has had impact on Vardy and Rooney as individuals, but it felt crazy to have got as far as the high court.”

The entire case, added Lloyd, whose production of Witness for the Prosecution at London’s County Hall has been running for five years, “felt like a soap opera drama”. But because trials in the UK aren’t televised, most people’s source of information was a drip feed on social media. “And I thought, God, wouldn’t it be amazing to be in the room?”

Lloyd’s previous productions have been huge hits and won a number of Olivier awards, while her forthcoming plays include the West End transfer of Best of Enemies by James Graham and The Collaboration with Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope which played the Young Vic and will open on Broadway in December.

But she has always been drawn to what she calls “inquiry dramas” such as those about the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the Hutton inquiry at the former Tricycle theatre. “The audience were really able to get a sense of what was said in court. I wanted to do something like that with a topic that wasn’t so big, serious and weighty.”

Coleen Rooney with Rebekah Vardy in the background at a football match
‘She wrote a mini, beautifully plotted thriller,’ says producer Eleanor Lloyd of Coleen Rooney’s Instagram posts. Photograph: Stewart Kendall/Sportsphoto

Vardy, the wife of the Leicester City footballer Jamie, lost her case against Rooney, the wife of the former England footballer Wayne, in July. But the saga began three years ago when Rooney conducted a “sting” operation to find out who was leaking stories from her private Instagram account to journalists at the Sun.

Rooney identified the culprit with the now infamous words posted on Instagram: “It’s ………. Rebekah Vardy’s account.” Vardy denied passing information to the Sun and sued Rooney for libel in an attempt to restore her reputation.

The story and our interest in it reflected our complicated relationship with celebrity, Lloyd said. “We know celebrities suffer from intrusion into their lives that feels unfair. We know the tabloid media spins things. Our rational brains know we’re being served in a big way. Is it true, is it not true? But our emotional brains can’t help but be engaged. The Daily Mail sidebar of shame is incredibly popular, but we read it with a kind of guilty feeling at the same time.”

In many ways, Rooney’s original Instagram post managed to recreate Christie’s work in a miniature form, which only added to the intrigue. “She was basically trying to be Miss Marple. She wrote a mini, beautifully plotted thriller, even to the point of the famous 10 dots at the end which gave you a cliffhanger, and then she gave you the denouement – the twist. You think you know what’s coming, but you don’t.”

The exact date and location of the performance is yet to be announced, but Lloyd said it was an unmissable opportunity to take the trial from the “rarefied atmosphere of the high court to the bright lights of the West End”.

Spirling, the artistic director of Theatre503, added that the trial asked “key questions about the complex boundaries between privacy and celebrity in modern Britain and what it is to be a so-called Wag”.


Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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