Ambassadors Theatre, London
Written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon
Directed by Guy Masterson
I declare an interest. I saw Steven Spielberg's movie Jaws (for what was to be the first of countless times) in December 1975 on the day that it opened across the UK. I have read Peter Benchley’s book, devoured The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb (the movie’s screenwriter and whose book described the story’s journey from page to screen) and in 2015 I interviewed Gottlieb for this website. I know my Jaws...
The Shark Is Broken is an intriguing conceit. Actors have famously commented that while shooting a movie, most of the time is spent sat around doing nothing, waiting for the shot to be ready with only a fraction of time being spent in front of the camera. So it is that Ian Shaw, a son of Jaws star Robert Shaw (who played shark-hunter and fisherman Quint in the movie) together with Joseph Nixon, has created this one-act play set entirely on board Quint’s fishing boat Orca and featuring the interactions between the three actors who played the movie’s protagonists Roy Scheider (Police Chief Brody), Richard Dreyfuss (Oceanographer Matt Hooper) and Robert Shaw.
The show's dramatic structure works well, as with reference to his father’s diaries and stories, Gottlieb’s book and masses of additional research, Shaw Junior has constructed a very plausible narrative. Add to this the uncanny resemblance that Shaw bears to his illustrious dad and the evening is complete. To be fair Demetri Goritsas (Scheider) and Liam Murray Scott (Dreyfuss) both put in fine turns, Goritsas in particular, but – unlike Spielberg’s original, where the narrative was driven in equal measure by the trio – it is Shaw who delivers the piece's core energy, offering us a glimpse into his father's literary genius as well as a suggested dependance on the bottle. There's humour a'plenty too, with Shaw cleverly capturing his father's maverick brilliance.
Guy Masterson directs with an economic precision, the whole work being elegantly presented on Duncan Henderson’s cutaway Orca and Nina Dunn’s ingenious projections cleverly capturing the roll and sway of the New England seaboard. If there are criticisms, it is that some of Shaw & Nixon’s gags about the future are a tad too blatant, and Scott’s take on Dreyfuss’ anxieties errs too often towards a slapstick Leo Bloom – mental health should be no laughing matter.
But this is fine imaginative writing, and as the evening unwinds we see Shaw progressing through his development of Quint’s speech about the torpedoing of the USS Indianapolis, and the ensuing shark attack that befell those sailors who survived the sinking. While Jaws is a work of fiction, the tragedy of the Indianapolis is true – and as Ian Shaw recreates his father’s masterful telling of that terrible tale, he holds the audience spellbound.
Runs until 15th January 2022
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks