'Vardy v. Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial' review — the football courtroom drama scores an own goal

Read our review of the courtroom drama between footballer's wives, Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, playing at the Ambassadors Theatre through 20 May.

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Welcome to the theatre of dreams. No, it’s not Old Trafford. It’s the Ambassadors Theatre, home to a re-enactment of the “Wagatha Christie” court case that took over Britain.

Coleen Rooney, the wife of ex-England football captain Wayne Rooney, uploaded an Instagram post accusing Rebekah Vardy, wife of Leicester City and England player Jamie Vardy, of submitting false stories to The Sun. A seven-day libel court case in 2022 concluded that Vardy and her agent Caroline Watt were guilty of selling fake news to the British tabloids.

A year later, Liv Hennessy’s faithful adaptation puts the wives back in the spotlight, as Hennessy condenses the week-long trial into 90 minutes (and injury time) of back-and-forth action.

But, just because the case is so ingrained in popular culture — the court case birthed the “Wagatha Christie” moniker, a combination of “WAG” (a wife and girlfriend of a football player) and Agatha Christie” — does it need to be retold in dramatic form?

Hennessy’s courtroom drama magnifies the whipped-up media frenzy around the two women into “The Scousetrap,” a twist on London’s longest-running play that happens to be at the theatre next door. But relying on verbatim transcripts doesn’t add anything to what the general public already knows.

The court events are so inherently theatrical that rehashing the exact dialogue takes away from the drama. We laugh at the phrases we’re already familiar with. We gasp at the revelations. We walk in knowing the result. Everyone already watched this trial happen, and simply staging the transcripts dilutes their impact.

If you’re after a dramatic reading of the culturally significant Instagram post, then you’ll be easily pleased. Laura Dos Santos (as Rooney) kicks off the show with a jester-like performance of the Notes app declaration. Two ensemble actors step into pundit roles, breaking the action and forcing every football pun imaginable into describing the court case. Halema Hussain and Nathan McMulle confidently steer the proceedings in the narrator roles, but every time they interrupt the court events, any built-up tension is lost — their own goal.

When Vardy and Rooney walk into the courtroom for the first time, they’re cheered by the audience as if they’re athletes. Once the court case begins, any cheering is quickly shushed, as there’s a lot of talking without any breaks. As lawyers make a confident summation of the events, they pretend to score a goal, with all those in court freezing in a football “laddish” manner. While funny on occasion, it’s the only method used to break up the storytelling, and infantialises the events to a series of cheap scores.

Lucy May Barker doesn’t break a sweat playing Rebekah Vardy. She plays the sourpuss WAG with minimal inflections, so we all laugh when she finally breaks out of character as she recounts the shocking Whatsapp messages. Dos Santos plays an understated Coleen Rooney, capturing the emotion of a heartbroken woman.

But, due to court transcripts providing the story, there’s little opportunity for character development and any imaginative storytelling. What did the wives think of each other behind closed doors? It’s tricky to understand the pair’s longtime feud. It sizzles, but it doesn’t bang.

Polly Sullivan’s set conceives the Old Bailey as a football pitch (who knew grass and granite could work so well together?), but the clear plastic chairs feel out of place for both surroundings.

And there was ripe opportunity to use Sky Sports Saturday ticker tape projections to elevate the production and share side stories to add further context. Instead, we’re made to sit, listen, and take stock.

When the Wagatha Christie trial played out in real-time, I followed the court case with bated breath. It’s hard to think of chipolatas, pigeons, or Davy Jones’s locker without thinking of Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney. It’s a shame that a pivotal moment in contemporary British popular culture now lends itself to a static, monotonous drama.

“I think why on Earth are we here?” says lawyer David Sherbourne in his closing statement. I asked myself the same question.

Vardy v. Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial is at the Ambassadors Theatre. Book Vardy v. Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial tickets on London Theatre.

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Photo credit: Lucy May Barker and Laura Dos Santos (Photos by Pamela Raith Photography)

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