FringeReview UK 2023
Queasily or not, there’s no chance this won’t entertain and provoke questions. The brilliance of movement, lighting, script-editing and strong performances, with physical jokes make this a greater thing than it might be, and this production’s gained a notch of humanity in its tour. But to wish for something more human falls into the very intrusiveness that gave rise to the trial. It’s a tribute to Wagatha Christie – and Hennessy – that it raises that paradox.
Adaptor Liv Hennessy, Director Lisa Spirling Set and Costume Polly Sullivan, Designer, Lighting Designer Johanna Town, Composer & Sound Designer Richard Hammarton, Movement Consultant Mateus Daniel.
Casting Director Naomi Downham CDG, Dramaturg Sarah Dickenson, Assistant Director Lizzie Manwaring, Costume Supervisor Hugo Aguirre.
Production Manager Callum Finn, CSM Matthew Hales, DSM Caitlin Shay, Technical ASM Amy Mawer, Head of Sound Dominykas Narusis, Head of Wardrobe Maisie Jackaman.
Till June 17th
“Surely there’s a difference between what’s in the public interest and what interests the public.” Are we complicit?
A libel over an Instagram leak, sleuthing by clever elimination, allegation, suing. With scores settled as it were (lots of football metaphors), it’s fascinating to see how Liv Hennessy’s Wagatha Christie – transferred to the Theatre Royal Brighton from Wyndham’s at the end of its tour – has aged.
One thing’s reinforced after seeing this play a second time: both women are smart; but one’s clever enough for a Jacobean drama or Restoration comedy. Like Ken Tynan, I couldn’t love anyone who didn’t see beyond red tops and shirts, complex people whose accents and lack of formal education make them laughter dartboards, but hit bullseyes of their own.
It’s still less than a year since the judgement was handed down. Wagatha Christie’s directed by Lisa Spirling as if breaking news itself is on trial: fleet, bright, a touch relentless. There’s a slightly more rounded atmosphere at Brighton, and this set fits in the Theatre Royal very snugly.
Gleaming with Johanna Town’s pin-point lighting, often working with Mateus Daniel’s movement direction – the sheer spectacle allures like metal sheen. The whole production gives off the clinical feel of being what it is: an augmented piece of verbatim theatre, with added chorus.
Polly Sullivan’s set with its upstage embossed panelling in grey, gestural silver rails and witness stands (none of the old empanelled look here) means the only human touches come in casual clothes donned at the end. Richard Hammarton’s sound and composition shifts from sinister off-sounds to Amy Winehouse. It’s easier to see the green football-pitch stage floor than at the Ambassadors.
Rebekah Vardy (Lucy May Barker) as the suer who overreaches never turns tragic in Hennessy’s or Barker’s hands. It’s a consummate performance of someone both assured and who’s prepared to brave four days of relentless cross-questioning. But she gets in some disarming asides. “Without wanting to make fun of anyone it was actually Dancing on Ice, and Gemma Collins face planting on the ice was the next message.”
Coleen Rooney (Laura Dos Santos) comes into her own in Act 2 when in turn she’s questioned, though she’s first on with a brief narrative prologue, and emerges with broader Liverpool accent, more grimly determined. Dos Santos’ guarded righteousness can’t allow the Vardy ad-libs: subtle differences of approach show Rooney’s strategy, as opposed to Vardy’s tactics.
It’s all in the selection. If Vardy’s never heard of Davy Jones’ locker, it seems too neat that her counsel David Sherborne (Tom Turner, elegant, equine and entitled) should ask what FFS means, to balance up the simmering sense of class-judgement and snobbery: another reason we never approach moments of vulnerability or intimacy. Hennessy’s selective script certainly produces dramatic parallels we have to take as authentic.
Hennessy’s second play (her first was shortlisted in a Paines Plough competition as recently as 2020) show her experience on Emmerdale storylines prepared her for navigating what’s essential and what’s cut.
There’s no doubt too that Hennessy knows how to craft enough variety and pitch in the transcripts, adding her own material to ensure the energy doesn’t flag. The two protagonists are locked in, though, to a prurient world of class privilege they have little experience of.
Neither Dos Santos nor Barker invite sneering, and the audience seems full of the right kind of laughter to underscore that. But this is a work that subtly – and unsubtly – shows how the law’s structured. Unsurprisingly the world of Prima Facie doesn’t lurk far away.
New material arrives in the badinages of the two pundits, acting as release valve and chorus. Pundit 1 Jeff (Nathan McMullen, also Wayne Rooney/Jamie Vardy) projects a cheery air-ball-bopping commentary riffing off the Vardy-leaning Pundit 2 Jem (Halema Hussain, also Vardy’s dumped PA Caroline Watt and witness Harpreet Robertson) who bounces off McMullen like Rabbit off Tigger. Some might find them too hyperactive, but they’re essential to raise the energy of the too-determined sheen of the courtroom.
Mrs Justice Steyn (Verna Vyas) has little to do till the end, but projects the class dominance of the counsels in her judgement. Hugh Tomlinson QC (Jonathan Broadbent) brings a rumpled defensiveness, despite being nominally on the attack. Turner’s aristocratic elan pivots and dives, whereas Broadbent exudes doggedness, hinting damage limitation. To counter this image, Broadbent’s now added a somersault to his curtain-call.
Queasily or not, there’s no chance this won’t entertain and provoke questions. The brilliance of movement, lighting, script-editing and strong performances, with physical jokes – McMullen and Hussain prone to leap in the air with imaginary head-balls – make this a greater thing than it might be, and this production’s gained a notch of humanity in its tour.
Its very gleam and clinical dispatch is perhaps less pitiless now. At the end the two women look at each other with half-smiles. As if acknowledging it a worthy fight. Really? And has PA Caroline Watt been the real casualty? But to wish for something more human falls into the very intrusiveness that gave rise to the trial. It’s a tribute to Wagatha Christie – and Hennessy – that it raises that paradox. It’s only on for three performances till Saturday, and seeing it again, I urge you to see it too.