Last Updated on November 9, 2021
The Play about The Film – The Shark is Broken
*stop press – run now extended – The Shark is Broken is now booking through to 13 February 2022 – stop press*
Based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel, Jaws is one of those films that is embedded in our collective consciousness. Trips to the seaside have never been the same since the 1975 Steven Spielberg Hitchcockian masterpiece and hearing those two low double bass notes from John Williams’ iconic score is enough to send anyone into paroxysms of terror. Now, in a meta twist, writers Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon bring us The Shark is Broken – a brilliantly hilarious laugh-out-loud 70-minute play about the making of the film.
The film’s story is built around police chief Martin Brody’s (Roy Scheider) attempts to hunt down a man-eating great white shark that is terrorising a beachside resort. He is helped in his mission by a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a professional shark hunter (Robert Shaw). Co-writer and instigator of the project Ian Shaw (not the jazz singer) is actor Robert Shaw’s son who was inspired to write the piece by finding one of his alcoholic father Robert’s drinking diaries. So this poignant yet very funny piece is as much Shaw fils’ own ‘voyage around his father’ as anything else.
The Shark is Broken is set in 1974 off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts in a hiatus in the filming of Jaws. The film was the first big-budget movie to be filmed on the ocean and there were many logistical problems on the shoot, one of which was that mechanical sharks tended to break down. The three stars, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss are confined on a boat with stormy weather coming in, a copious supply of alcohol and three large egos on board…
I was at the press night and the audience was eased into the 70s zeitgeist by a soundtrack playing tracks contemporaneous to the movie, with Abba’s Waterloo and Al Green’s Take me to the River setting an aquatic tone. The set by Duncan Henderson is dominated by a realistic cutaway of the fishing boat The Orca which is where the action takes place. The boat is surrounded by Nina Dunn’s highly effective video of the sea which creates the most realistic staged seascape that I have ever seen.
The play centres around the relationship between the three actors who are sitting around listlessly killing time and waiting to shoot their scenes. They bicker, drink, play games, fight, philosophise and try to make sense of what it is to be an actor. Demetri Goritsas plays Roy Scheider (Martin Brody) as the peacemaker, the calm at the centre of the storm as the other two rage at each other. It’s an impressively contained performance, the character is often boring and full of ‘interesting’ facts, but the Scheider character holds the other two together with his stoic rationality and Scott is quietly moving when describing Scheider’s sickly childhood and the abuse he received from his father.
Lian Murray Scott’s’ Richard Dreyfuss who plays marine biologist Matt Hooper is anything but quiet; he is neurotic, passionate, angry, insecure, funny – “Jews should stay away from the water” – and sometimes paranoid. In a bravura performance, Scott veers between a brash arrogance and a desire for the approval of Shaw and Scheider. He is constantly belittled and called “boy” by Shaw but having been physically attacked by his alcoholic colleague for throwing a bottle of booze overboard he makes amends by finding another hidden bottle – “You’re like a truffle pig boy”. In a lovely scene, Shaw convinces the green Dreyfuss that the notoriously difficult playwright Harold Pinter enjoys being offered interpretations of his work by strangers…
But of course, the central performance is Ian Shaw’s take on his own father Robert Shaw who in the film is playing Quint, the grizzled old shark hunter. Shaw has tremendous fun with the role, playing the RADA trained RSC actor with a relish both for the great writing and for the emotional resonance of the part. The character is flawed and knows it – “It’s the grit in the oyster that creates the pearl – I am that grit” – but has the best lines. When Robert Shaw says “My father was a real alcoholic” the play echoes Ian Shaw’s lived experience with his father dying aged 51.
The Shark is Broken is a brilliant portrayal of three characters thrown together in a bubble. It features some of the best writing, acting and jokes in London at the moment. It also provides a profound insight into the world of actors, their insecurities, rivalries and mutual dependence. I haven’t laughed as much for a long time.
‘The Shark is Broken’ will play a strictly limited run at the Ambassadors Theatre from 9 October 2021 – 15 January 2022.
Website: thesharkisbroken.com Box Office: 08448717615
For Hilary Mantel fans the RSC production of The Mirror and the Light, the final part of her Wolf Hall trilogy, is currently playing at the Gielgud Theatre. Check out our review. For West Londoners, the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith is showing The Beauty Queen of Leenane.