Wagatha play won't punch down at Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney, writer says

By November 18, 2022Entertainment

"The Wagatha Christie case has mystery, suspense and broken friendships – all the ingredients for a great drama," says Liv Hennessy, whose West End play is based on the High Court clash.
Love it or hate it, the dispute between Rebekah Vardy and Coleen Rooney captured many headlines earlier this year.
It arguably offered light relief to audiences weary of hearing about war in Ukraine, Covid, the heatwave and politics.
"Wagatha felt like a real water-cooler moment in the UK, which I think is quite rare now," says playwright Hennessy, a former story producer for ITV soap opera Emmerdale.
The trial was dubbed "Wagatha Christie" – a reference to both women as footballers' wives and girlfriends (Wags), and Agatha Christie, the author famous for her whodunit mysteries.
Following her 2019 Instagram sting operation, Mrs Rooney dramatically accused Mrs Vardy, on social media, of leaking private stories about her to the Sun.
Mrs Vardy has always denied this, and filed legal proceedings against Mrs Rooney – but in July, Mrs Justice Steyn ruled Mrs Rooney's accusation was "substantially true".
Mrs Rooney is expected to receive an estimated £1.5m from Mrs Vardy towards legal costs.
Hennessy says her play, Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial, captures a moment in time – exploring what is private and what public.
"This case couldn't have happened 10 years ago, and it probably won't happen in 10 years, because media law is catching up with how we operate on social media every day," she says.
"The play questions what we ask of our public figures, and whether we believe they should behave with integrity – which is fair enough if you're a politician, somebody very high up.
"But it becomes murkier when you're a social-media influencer, or you're 'fame adjacent', but you have social media.
"When you start to monetise public trust, and get money for your Instagram posts, we sort of have a right to know whether we can trust you or not."
Before putting pen to paper, Hennessy spent a fortnight wading through 1,200 pages of transcripts, bought by the play's producers.
This wasn't a hardship though – she had already been "glued to the case", following it via WhatsApp groups and Twitter and taking particular delight at some of the memes.
"I come from soap, so I'm used to very, very tight deadlines, working under extreme pressure and finding the story," Hennessy says.
"It suited my skill set – but it's been a ride."
She also consulted people with the necessary legal knowledge, "to make sure I nailed it".
The play is a piece of verbatim theatre – when its characters speak, they use real-life words.
Director Lisa Spirling, who approached Hennessy to write the play, knew the format could work.
"Nicholas Kent did a huge amount of plays based on trials [and inquiries] at London's Tricycle Theatre, so we knew it had been done before", she says.
His work includes plays on the Grenfell Tower fire, Stephen Lawrence's murder and Bloody Sunday.
Both women are clear about what struck them about the Vardy-Rooney trial – and what they chose to avoid.
Hennessy stresses she is not trying to belittle the women, arguably best-known for being footballers' wives.
"You could think we're punching down at people who don't understand the legal system, we're going to laugh at them," she says.
"That's not what this play is about."
Instead, what really came across reading the transcripts was "they both are incredibly intelligent women, who navigate a legal system – most of us would be very confused", Hennessy says.
"They're so self-possessed, they're confident, they handle it," she says.
Spirling admits being initially "quite snobby" about the case, until the play's producer, London Theatre Society president Eleanor Lloyd, persuaded her to think again and explore the issues raised.
She agreed, and realised it had huge potential as a play. And she is not alone in this – Channel 4 is also making a docudrama about the case.
"I was asking, 'Are we pulling down two working-class women, or two women in a situation who happen to be very rich?" Spirling says, on how the women could be portrayed.
But her "hackles went up" at the "patriarchy of everyone calling them Wags the whole time".
Former sports journalist Alison Kervin, who landed a three-book deal in the 2000s to write novels starring Wags, told the Times recently: "I hate the term Wag.
"The whole 'Wag' culture infantilised women," she said. "They were seen as the pretty hangers-on.
"Girls no longer want to be just wives or girlfriends. As we've seen this summer, women are able to play football too – and actually win."
Spirling also found a connection with the case.
"I'm from Lancashire originally, and many of my (male) friends are professional footballers," she says. "A bizarre amount were from my local school.
"To see those boys go on that journey and have too much money, be too famous too young, and what that does to you – to be living that life, as those guys have for 20 years -the exhaustion of that, and how you maintain it, and for the women alongside it.
"So I just I felt like I knew that world."
And after a "deep dive into what people were fighting for" in the court case, she concluded "it's reputation and control of their narrative… Instagram is a way of individuals taking back control".
One voice missing from the trial was that of Caroline Watt, Mrs Vardy's friend and agent.
A consultant forensic psychiatrist produced a report concluding she was unfit to give oral evidence.
But she is featured in the play.
"What Liv has done extraordinarily well is to find a way to bring Caroline into the room," Spirling says.
"So you have a sense of her, partly because of so many WhatsApp messages, but also in the presence of that person.
"She's the one we're not talking about, where you go, 'That is someone that's lost their job, who wasn't in the public eye, who clearly this has been incredibly distressing for, and significant and troubling… it feels really important."
Hennessey also includes football pundits on stage, who comment on the action in court, plus action replays.
She won't divulge which memorable moments from the court case are featured but says: "I don't think people will be disappointed."
The production started out as a one-night-only performance but has been extended after demand for tickets.
"We want to give people a great night out," Spirling says. "The world is pretty tough right now.
"This play absolutely has conversations about economics and fame and celebrity – and it will give people a bit of escapism."
Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial is at London's Wyndham's Theatre on 15, 22 and 29 November, 6, 13 and 20 December and 10 January.
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