42BR pupil Karolina Zielinska reviews Vardy v Rooney
Undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated West End debuts this year (whether libel law is your thing or not), it’s hard to resist the appeal of a production promising to reveal an insight into the celebrity lifestyle at the heart of this case.
And reveal it did. Entering the theatre, theatregoers were faced with a giant football pitch which would form our arena for the evening. The traditional courtroom setup — a judicial bench, counsels’ desks, a witness stand — had been pared down and placed midfield in anticipation of the match to come.
Two pundits presented a quick overview of key background before kick-off — who had posted what, when, and crucially, what burden of proof Vardy would have to meet to succeed in the upcoming libel trial. They explained the ambitions of the production, primarily to transform, word for word, the real Vardy v Rooney trial transcripts into a series of “match highlights”.
The trial began with a blow of the judicial whistle. Given the press interest in the case at the time, counsel for both parties must have been hyper-aware that quotable lines from the case might well make their way into the newspapers. These soundbites made for the sort of witness handling that you typically only see in dramatic legal TV and are told never to expect in reality at bar school.
A standout phrase came after Rooney’s counsel confronted Vardy with an incriminating WhatsApp where Vardy appears to suggest that her agent should leak a story — “If it looks like a leak, and sounds like a leak, and you even use the word leak, it is more likely than not to be a leak”.
Some more salacious points arising in the litigation were referenced so frequently in scenes that they became more like cheery refrains than devastating and impactful blows. Reminder from Rooney’s counsel that Vardy’s PR agent had conveniently dropped her phone in the North Sea, likely containing crucial evidence, became almost pantomime, akin to an ‘It’s behind you (in Davy Jones’ Locker)!’.
Not all courtroom content makes for good entertainment, however. The examination of both Vardy and Rooney’s experts was summed up in one line in an ‘end of day’ highlight. This was a wise decision, allowing the audience to move with ease past complex aspects of WhatsApp programming on to more dramatic evidence detailing the aftermath of Rooney’s Twitter ‘reveal post’ and the Wagatha Christie memes found on Rooney’s phone (including a Scooby Doo themed image in which Rooney as Fred unmasks Vardy as the villain).
Given that this was a real case involving real parties, producers wisely chose not to belittle or trivialise matters beyond basic commentary on what was going on in the case, with the odd football reference thrown in.
A poignant moment arose when Vardy’s counsel read out some of the horrific abuse that she received in the aftermath of Rooney’s ‘reveal post’, with the audience audibly horrified by the degree of vitriol expressed. Indeed, Vardy herself has shared publicly the effect that this extended abuse had and continues to have on her mental health.
This moment sobered up the audience and forced attendees to remember that whilst it might be fun to lambast the foreign world of ‘WAGs’ and ‘paps’, of PR agents and tipping off journalists, not all aspects of this case can be approached so light-heartedly.
Next came the verdict, where the judge moved to the centre circle of the pitch and announced the final score. Reading extracts from the judgment, which was published online in July 2022, the final line “For the reasons that I have given, the claim is dismissed” was met with whoops from the audience.
However, whilst Rooney might have been the people’s champion, Vardy had the final word. After both parties squared up to each other wordlessly before walking off-stage, ending their conflict, Vardy remained in the spotlight, slowly sliding sunglasses onto her face before sauntering away.
Ultimately, this was a fun production that one could almost consider writing off as a CPD expense, given the amount of word-for-word advocacy spouted directly from the trial transcripts that it contained. It is notable that the producers gave a nod to Advocate, the bar’s pro bono charity, in cast list flyers handed out on the night — a sensible reminder that whilst some may be able to rack up millions in costs, legal advice is not always as accessible as it should be.
4/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐