Art Beat: London National Theatre play on the Williams sisters

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption With all his influence and influence (c) Theresa May, Richard is destined to be an extraordinarily strong man

Upstairs via the stairs, now to the ground floor. Up the stairs, now down the stairs to the prison. A rousing plot to a Charles Dickens novel, but best played out on Rod Stewart’s back.

The actors here on stage are simply making a joke, but their timing is very precise, their movements sensual. They are impersonating Richard Williams, royal butler to the Williams sisters, a giant of sporting celebrity and power, an excellent informer and poet.

For so long, he has hung out with the best and most famous of our sporting stars – they called him ‘The King’. On this small stage at London’s National Theatre (or maybe offstage as it’s in Bradford), it’s time to celebrate their majestic life.

READ MORE – ‘King Richard’

For at the National Theatre on 31 October, New Year’s Eve, there’ll be an evening with the Williams sisters, and a play called King Richard The Third: An Evening of Legends.

Richard was the best of times and the worst of times. He was the king who helped them become the dominant women’s sportswomen of their time, and the tormented father who tried to destroy their tennis career. He once told the BBC that tennis was “that big an art-form these days that if you didn’t start something in the early part, you’re going to end up as a dead old man playing tennis”.

For good measure, he also told the BBC that he would kill all the British tennis players if they played with the tapered tape that has an extra hole, or the men if they used the shoe strings his family used.

As chief chauffeur to the Williams sisters, he was at their beck and call and even shot photos of their physical transformation with their shoes, diet and beauty routines.

He was also their best friend, their adviser, their confidant and most important collector of gossip.

This play which takes place over a few dinner tables between 2004 and 2014 offers a behind-the-scenes recreation of tennis history and perhaps the saga of sport’s most famous family.

The girls are played by Jelena Zajic, Aleksandra Krunic and Marta Menzieski, all of whom were champions at US college level.

Richard is played by Ben Griffiths. He was brought up on the London stage and his national training was done at the National Theatre under National Theatre director Rufus Norris.

RELATED – Williams family memoirs published

Art Beat is in the studio for a day of talks with Ben and his co-author Daniel Taylor, in conjunction with a special album (Queen of the Willsons – Songs of Suspicion, Song of Blessings, Surrender) commemorating the phenomenal influence and legacy of The Williams sisters.

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