Today: May 26, 2024

Theatre Review: The Shark is Broken

I loved every single second of The Shark is Broken. From the opening conversation that sees Richard Dreyfuss (an energetic Liam Murray Scott) and Roy Scheider (straight man Demetri Goritsas) lament that ‘Bruce’ – the titular mechanical beast – is out of action once again to the mesmerising final moments as Robert Shaw (played uncannily by his son Ian Shaw) finally makes it through the Indianapolis speech, every line of the play’s crackling dialogue is bursting with tremendous wit and fascinating insight into Hollywood history.

Telling the tale of Jaws’ troubled production on Martha’s Vineyard in 1974, The Shark is Broken takes the infamous stories from the set – Dreyfuss and Shaw’s rivalry, hideous weather, and of course the technical issues – and brings them to life, offering a hilarious and surprisingly warm and affectionate look at how three actors who could not be more different came together to create one of the finest films ever made.

Taking place almost entirely in the downtime between takes, the play has a fast and fun structure that puts the audience right in the cabin of the Orca as the three actors bicker, play games, compare their processes and ultimately learn a respect for one another during 16 weeks of Jaws’ production. The incredible writing from Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon is packed with laugh-out-loud moments and sly winks to the audience through references to the actors’ other works and the future legacy of Jaws, resulting in a play that is an absolute smorgasbord of delights for film fans. 

Giving audiences a chance to see what happened on that storied set and witness those legendary feuds that have been discussed in countless documentaries and books (including Carl Gottlieb‘s indispensable The Jaws Log book), The Shark is Broken is a hilarious and booze-fuelled romp of warring egos that deftly balances hilarity with a warm and touching poignancy that strips Shaw, Scheider and Dreyfuss back to reveal the real men behind Quint, Brody and Hooper. It’s a wonderful love letter to Hollywood history and to the volatile and troubled Robert Shaw, who is written and portrayed with an honesty that offers him the tribute he would’ve probably loved. 

On a technical level, the play is far more reliable than its titular shark. Everything works flawlessly, with the faithfully recreated Orca surrounded by a stunningly projected ocean that seems to extend miles beyond the confines of the stage. The sound design is equally remarkable, with the ship’s creaks and unseen crew’s noisy efforts to fix Bruce lending a real feeling of authenticity to the production that only further pulls the audience onto the troubled film set.

I cannot praise The Shark is Broken enough, and there aren’t enough superlatives in the world that even come close to its genius. The performances are uncannily stellar and the play itself is flawlessly written and paced. I can’t remember the last time I had such a good time at the theatre. At once a warm tribute to Jaws and a stellar piece of performance in its own right, this one is an absolute must-see.

THE SHARK IS BROKEN must end 13 February at Ambassadors Theatre, London

Tickets and more information can be found at thesharkisbroken.com

 

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