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. 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 Liv Hennessy – that it raises that paradox.
Adapter Liv Hennessy, Director Lisa Spirling Set and Costume Designer Polly Sullivan, Lighting Designer Johanna Town, Composer & Sound Designer Richard Hammarton, Movement Consultant Mateus Daniel
Casting Director Naomi Downham CDG, Assistant Director Lizzie Manwaring, Costume Supervisor Hugo Aguirre.
Till May 20th and on tour till June 17th ending at Theatre Royal, Brighton
“Surely there’s a difference between what’s in the public interest and what interests the public.” 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 Ambassadors Theatre from Wyndham’s before touring – has aged. It’s less than a year since the judgement was handed down. It’s directed by Lisa Spirling as if breaking news itself is on trial: fleet, bright, a touch relentless.
Gleaming with Johanna Town’s pint-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 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.
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 know 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 Rooney fans 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/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 two-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.
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. Its very gleam and clinical dispatch is pitiless. 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.