The Shark is Broken – Ambassadors Theatre, London

Reviewer: David Guest

Writers: Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon

Director: Guy Masterson

After scoring huge success at the Fringe in Brighton and Edinburgh in 2019 The Shark is Broken was besieged with cries of “you’re gonna need a bigger theatre!” Now the play has deservedly found its larger home at the Ambassadors Theatre, London, and the ocean of plaudits will keep on coming as it’s a production that is pretty much perfect, with more bite than a Great White.

A malfunctioning mechanical shark is the unlikely catalyst for a play that charts the off-screen tensions in one of the most successful monster movies ever made. The strained relationships between the three stars (or, more properly, two of them) of Spielberg’s 1975 horror classic Jaws is fairly well-known but this brilliant and compelling new piece focuses on the trio as they wait for the animatronic shark (“Bruce”) to be fixed.

Written by Ian Shaw (whose father Robert Shaw played grizzled fisherman Quint in the movie) and Joseph Nixon The Shark is Broken is no dull drama documentary. This is an often edgy, occasionally hilarious, study of film-making, Hollywood stardom, and feuds between actors behind the scenes that boost the chemistry between the characters on-screen.

The battle between classical actor and seasoned drinker Robert Shaw and the up and coming drug-dependent wunderkind Richard Dreyfuss is infamous and has been charted many times. But Shaw and Nixon’s play digs deeper, based on real life but with much of the dialogue and action imagined.

Shaw’s performance is a beautiful tribute to his father, revealing a witty personality devoted to his work and craft, but never shies away from the darker, aggressive, no-nonsense professional side, a serious and experienced actor who sneeringly regards Dreyfuss and his approach as cocky arrogance, baiting the young performer to the point of humiliation.

There are some great moments when Shaw Senior dismisses the film as a likely flop, an embarrassing attempt to blend Enemy of the People with Moby Dick, yet the atmosphere is electric when he reminisces about his theatre life, sharing anecdotes with a twinkle in his eye. Ultimately Shaw Junior’s delivery of his father’s memorable USS Indianapolis monologue from Jaws brings a tingle to the spine and a tear to the eye, especially with the realisation that the actor tweaked a much longer scripted speech to create one of cinema’s classic moments.

As Dreyfuss, Liam Murray Scott successfully plays up the actor’s over-confident belief that he is the star and that the plot of the movie is driven by his story and character of the oceanographer Hooper. It is a stunning portrayal that captures the actor’s brashness and boldness, tempered by depression and paranoia, hinting at the bipolar disorder that Dreyfuss has often remarked has driven his performances.

The third “misfit” on the boat is Roy Scheider (who was police chief Brody in the movie), played magnificently by Demetri Goritsas. Ian Shaw’s resemblance to his father is understandable, but Goritsas looks the part in every mannerism and line – an actor enjoying the experience of working on a film that might be a disaster or may just be a blockbuster. His laid-back presence and efforts to keep the peace when squabbles break out provides an interesting counterpoint to the pitched battle between his co-stars.

In just over 90 minutes the play manages not just to tell the behind the scenes story, but also takes time to praise the hard-working crew who have to struggle on through all hours to allow the movie to keep being made, even when faced with impossible circumstances.It also recognises and appreciates that a lot of acting and filming is plain silly and calls for much patience from actors. Early on Shaw notes with a wry smile, “They can put a man on the moon but can’t make a mechanical shark that floats!”

Guy Masterton’s tight and pacy direction allows for no drifting, keeping viewers captivated and changing moods and meanings in and between scenes smoothly. Designer Duncan Henderson has created such a believable set (helped by Nina Dunn’s extraordinary video design) that you believe you really are in the filming location.

Mesmerising performances, an immaculate script and a larger but suitably claustrophobic venue make this one of the must-sees of the year, a production that manages to whip up a storm to become its own blockbuster story.

Continues until 15 January 2022

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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