During the interval of Vardy v Rooney, the court transcript-turned-play currently keeping the Wyndham theatre warm on Tuesday nights, the man next to me remarked to his companion that something—I didn’t hear what—about what we’d just seen had reminded him of The Social Network. It is, admittedly, difficult to immediately see what that might have been. Sorkin’s courtrooms don’t tend to have football-shaped chairs.
I don’t bring this up in a mean way. Rather, it’s an admission that we all get things out of art that others can’t. Normally I’d find that thought comforting. After following the Wagatha Christie trial for what turned out to be dangerously close to two and a half hours, it was hard not to leave feeling a little deflated.
That’s not to say there isn’t fun to be had in Liv Hennessy’s adaptation of the court case which gripped social media earlier this year. The first half, in particular, focussing on Vardy’s frequently nonsensical testimony, is impressively packed with gags for a play whose lines are taken, completely verbatim, from the court transcript of its titular trial.
It’s also impressive to see how much of the case has stuck itself into the zeitgeist. Vardy’s entrance was initially met with pantomime-style boos, and regular lines resurrected from the 2020 social media scene were met with a chorus of enthusiastic chuckles.
But what could have been a fun and raucous fifty-minute Fringe show slowly gives way to a two-hour slog. The show professes only to use the highlights of the trial—unfortunately, most of the real highlights are covered before the interval. The two commentators used to add context to the legal proceedings were left to interrupt for no reason other than to remind the audience they were there, and it’s hard to escape the feeling that this material was stretched long past its breaking point.
From left to right: Charlotte Randle, Tom Turner and Lucy May Barker
In a way, the play’s stuck in an impossible position. On the one hand, a more standard dramatisation would have solved the transcript’s inevitable pacing problems and could have added a bit more entertainment value beyond the occasional cheer-inducing quote. But it’s hard to tell how many of the laughs in its current form would be lost were they not coming straight from the mouths of its real-life inspirations. And scripts take time, something the producer took to the stage at the start to remind us they didn’t have.
But some things are worth taking time over, and while it’s hard to fault the ambition of the cast and crew in taking a show from court end-date (July 29th 2022) to a West End stage in a little over three months, the cracks certainly show, and not always in a charming, off-the-cuff kind of way.
The screens and tablets are given to each cast member to read the transcript. It works surprisingly well, given the courtroom setting, but even that safety feature didn’t make the production gaff-proof. Skipped lines, forgotten props, and a general lack of polish from cue-to-cue reared their heads throughout, and while that sort of thing can be easily forgiven in the upstairs room of an Edinburgh pub, on the size of the platform they’ve been given, it’s hard not to expect a little better. After all, nothing kills comedy faster than a dodgy line reading and an inelegant recovery, which were sadly frequent enough that any hope the play had of getting into a groove fell flat.
I am as far from this show’s target audience as possible. I don’t follow football. I have a passing knowledge of who the titular Vardy and Rooney might be. I wasn’t even drunk. But while plenty of people may have got something out of The Wagatha Christie Trial, the atmosphere in the theatre by the end still felt a little flat. Its strictly limited run means I’m sure it will find its audience. I hope they enjoy it more than I did.