The Shark is Broken

To the theatre, to see a play, but one about the movies, and essentially about the making of Jaws.

The Shark is Broken is a perfectly formed and performed ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ sort of play, written by and starring Ian Shaw, the actual son of Robert Shaw who played salty seadog Quint and who gets eaten by the shark in the movie.

Not in this play though, because it’s about the real-life (indeed larger than life) Robert Shaw and his co-stars Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider hanging around, drinking and fighting on the boat while waiting for the damn shark to work so they can get done with filming.

If you haven’t seen Jaws, perhaps it won’t mean much; but then if you haven’t seen Hamlet, can you enjoy Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? Possibly, because it’s funny and existential in its own right and so is The Shark is Broken, which dials into the vanity and neuroses of actors, the insanity of film making and yet concentrates on something very human, too, something Beckettian and bizarre about waiting and filling time and expecting something to happen.

Shaw himself is remarkable, partly because he looks just like his Dad did as Quint and, frankly, nobody looks like that. But the play he’s written is both homage to his Dad, to all Dads, and to the generations of actors before him and after him and it questions the point of art and the existence of art. And booze.

Shaw gives himself Quint’s famous monologue to memorise and tinker with and, finally, to deliver (he also shows off a bit with a lovely rendition of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 but, you know, it’s his play, after all, and you can just imagine his Dad and Peter O’Toole pissed in a Theatreland pub bellowing lines at each other late a-night).

This play is thus full of little details about some of the most memorable scenes in modern Hollywood history, such as how Scheider improvised the  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”  line, and how Close Encounters was forming next in Steven Spielberg’s mind. “Ha,” sneers Shaw at the infantile nature of where cinema was heading. “Sharks, and aliens? Whatever next? Dinosaurs…?” 

As Scheider and Dreyfuss, Demetri Goritsas and Liam Murray Scott come up with nicely contrasting energies – Scheider is all healthy, calm and reasoned; Dreyfuss is a live-wire, self-obsessed mess of drug addictions and career paranoia.

It’s a very enjoyable piece (co-written by Shaw and Joseph Nixon) and it made me ponder why we love these mythical weavings backstage and off camera, because they’re certainly a genre. The Shark is Broken director Guy Masterson, I read in the programme, also did One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest on the London stage, and Twelve Angry Men. 

There’s a desire to put on stage performances and words that have been immortalised on film, and to peek into a private world, behind the curtain, to reveal the workings of something which looks perfect but which teetered on disaster. The programme notes have fascinating pics and illustrations of how they made the shark – nicknamed Bruce, after Spielberg’s lawyer – work, or not work (they didn’t take into account salt water would muck up the hydraulics.) We’re clearly fascinated by the mechanics of art, perhaps the better to understand it ourselves, or even to attempt it.

Anyway, if you like Jaws, if you like (or are terrified of) sharks, if you like actors and stories about actors and movie myth, The Shark Is Broken is at The Ambassadors Theatre, next door The Mousetrap, opposite The Ivy: bite someone’s leg off to get a ticket.