There are few movies as instantly identifiable by the first few bars of their theme tune. The “Jaws” theme – and the movie – became an iconic hit after the film’s release in 1975. The film itself may have been thrilling and horrifying, but the drama that went on behind the scenes was also amazing. Bruce, the titular mechanical star of the film, broke down after salt water corroded his insides. This left the three human stars, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, with nothing to do until the production team could get the shark back up and chomping on the people of Amity Island. This slice of real life has been turned into this wonderfully original production that wowed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019. It’s not hard to see why it was such a hit.
As they sit on the boat, fog and storms closing in, the three actors bitch and moan, gossip, play games, cheat at games, and argue over who is actually the star of the movie. Shaw drinks too much and declaims his status as a Shakespearean actor, Dreyfuss takes coke and angsts about his desire to be famous and how he wants to get into theatre. Scheider is the calm one, reading and throwing out bits of information to the other two, the perpetual Switzerland of the group, keeping them from sinking the proverbial ship, or throwing themselves overboard with boredom.
The cast of three could not be better. For a start, there’s the meta involvement of Ian Shaw (who also co-wrote the play with Joseph Nixon), as his father. The resemblance is total, the performance a tour-de-force. He rails against the frivolity of popular movies, shutting down a discussion of any deeper meaning of the film being about man’s misuse of nature, or politicians failing to act for the good of the people, with a simple statement, “It’s about a shark.” Liam Murray Scott as the young Dreyfuss is all nervous (maybe coked-up) energy, desperate for fame and full of self-doubt. Demetri Goritsas is the perfect foil for them both as the calmly intelligent Scheider. As they bicker, they eventually find common ground, their competitive natures resolving into an odd but workable team as they finally wrap on the movie, and Shaw is able to give Quint’s speech about how the character survived the attack on the USS Indianapolis in 1945.
Direction by Guy Masterson is perfectly nuanced and restrained. It’s a static, contained situation – three men mostly sitting in a boat, with little movement – but Masterson doesn’t feel the need to fill the stage with unnecessary action. The quiet moments between the three add depth to their relationship.
Duncan Henderson’s design is stunning. Coupled with Jon Clark’s superb lighting, the set takes its place as another character alongside the three humans and the off-stage shark. The boat is just about big enough to contain the three actors and their egos, and small enough to force them to be in close quarters as they wait. The vast curved backdrop of changing sea, sky, and star-scapes, with clouds, fog, birds and yachts is beautiful. The lucky falling star that appears towards the end of the play defines the perfect moment of emotional development of Shaw, Scheider and Dreyfuss.
“The Shark Is Broken” asks is it art? Is it entertainment? Does it matter? Either way, this beautifully rendered production sheds a fascinating and hilarious light on a little-known behind-the-scenes incident in what has become a movie classic.
The Shark Is Broken runs at the Ambassadors Theatre until Saturday, 15th January 2022.
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 20th October 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★