Last year a dispute between footballers’ wives, Rebekah Vardy (Lucy May Barker) and Coleen Rooney (Laura Dos Santos), culminated in a libel case in the English High Court.
In 2019, Rooney accused Vardy of leaking posts from her private Instagram account to The Sun newspaper. Vardy sued Rooney for libel, and the case went to trial in 2022. The onus was on Rooney to prove Vardy was responsible. After seven days, the court dismissed Vardy’s claim on the basis that Rooney’s statements were “substantially true”.
Their clash and subsequent trial attracted intense media scrutiny. The tabloids nicknamed the case “Wagatha Christie” because of the social media sleuthing by Rooney. She had discovered who was sharing her personal pictures and updates on her family life by posting fabricated stories on her private Insta account and restricting access to Vardy.
This immersive stage production has been adapted from the High Court transcripts by Liv Hennessy and reveals verbatim what went on behind closed doors and how the extraordinary week in court played out.
The play is set in a minimalistic but very recognisable courtroom (designed by Polly Sullivan) with just that extra bit of pun that comes in the form of a football pitch as flooring. The audience arrives to a murmur and subsequent cheering, when two pundits take stage and – in true football commentator form – set the scene of the event. Halema Hussain and Nathan McMullen both have a great presence and nail their jobs. The first half is dedicated to the four days Vardy (Lucy May Barker) spends in the witness stand. Barker’s performance is fun to watch. The way she switches between an almost stoic, flat, and uncomprehending Vardy in court and a lively person with hundreds of very Vardy facial expressions during the ‘flashbacks’ that are the readings of WhatsApp messages, is flawless. She holds up great while being picked apart by David Sherborne (Tom Turner).
After a quick 20-minute halftime break, it is time for Colleen Rooney (Laura Dos Santos) to take the stand and face the questions Hugh Tomlinson QC (Jonnie Broadbent) has for her. Dos Santos is more matter-of-factly and her story is straightforward, leaving us on a low note after the high drama of the first half. The audience is still in for a treat when Nathan McMullen hands over the microphone and turns from pundit to player, portraying Wayne Rooney’s quick appearance in court. You don’t need to be the biggest of football fan to realise that he has certain mannerisms down to a chin scratch. The audience was enjoying that short excurse while pundit Hussain issued biting comments which had us laughing.
Despite the good directing of Lisa Spirling that breaks up the case with great goal shot poses by both the solicitors when they score a point and gives you a gripping tennis-court-like exchange of well-planned blows, you can still see that production was put together in a haste last year. It is the re-telling of a well-known story while missing the chance to take a closer look on the current celebrity culture, the use of social media, the bad influence stardom, fabulously curated lives, and the perceived glamour of Instagram have on our society. Vardy V Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial is still gripping as any good trash TV show, and we enjoyed the cleverly written commentary and obvious football analogies.
You can catch it at The Lowry in Salford until Sunday 11th June 2023.