The Shark is Broken review – Jaws comedy sails into the West End
The comic piece dives behind-the-scenes on the set of the blockbuster
Do the figures at the centre of a major cultural phenomenon know that they're involved in something epoch-making right from the start? Judging by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon's utterly splendid new comedy, the answer would be a resounding no, at least as far as the 1970s cinematic blockbuster Jaws is concerned.
For this delightful theatrical footnote, which feels rather like a second cousin to Stones In His Pockets (and look at what a global success that became), set during the filming of Spielberg's early career smash, features three of the lead actors (Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw) waiting around for their next takes and glumly predicting failure for the project in hand. If, as well as being wildly entertaining and genuinely informative, it has the ring of authenticity, that'll be because the project was inspired by co-writer Ian Shaw's discovery of the diary of his father Robert, who he also plays.
The physical resemblance between the two Shaws is uncanny, at least until the curtain call when Ian appears to shed a couple of decades before our very eyes. More than that, Shaw Jr distils the essence of his father, in a bravura performance of astonishing candour (the script doesn't shy away from his heavy drinking, prima donna-esque tendencies and English theatrical snobbery towards Dreyfuss, the younger American co-star who has cut his teeth in film) but also great affection. He is hilariously self-aggrandising, quick to anger, with a spitfire wit but also a real undertow of sadness as he acknowledges that the writing career he so craves is likely to be scuppered by his fondness for the bottle.
Shaw's co-stars match him with performances that go beyond mere impersonation (although Demetri Goritsas and Liam Murray Scott are astonishingly accurate, kudos to casting director Julia Horan) into fully rounded characterisations. Goritsas' Scheider is infinitely likeable and laidback, the kind of bloke you wouldn't mind being stuck on a shoot with, while Murray Scott brings a Hebraic intensity and youthful energy to the self absorbed Dreyfuss that is more endearing than enervating.
As the actors lounge about Duncan Henderson's handsome boat set, playing cards, sniping at each other, arguing, moaning and opining, the passage of time is beautifully delineated by striking video design work by Nina Dunn. Crucially, Guy Masterson's perfectly pitched production conveys the boredom the trio endures as they wait for the fixing of the mechanical shark that will eventually upstage as well as eat them, while never letting it seep into our experience as the audience. Fact checking, rambunctiously enjoyable comedy, and poignancy co-habit seamlessly.
Much of the humour derives from hindsight: there's a huge belly laugh as Scheider, discussing Nixon, points out that there'll never be another American President so corrupt, or when he confidently declares that they couldn't possibly make a sequel to Jaws and even if they did, he certainly wouldn't be in it (he was!) The suspicion and dismissal with which the men regard a young Spielberg is also highly amusing given what we now know.
This is a highly original 90 minutes, packed with wit, insight and pop culture references. It will resonate massively with Jaws fans of course (Shaw meticulously recreates one of his father's key speeches from the screenplay and it's pretty heart-stopping if you're familiar with the original). More generally, and the reason why it could probably sustain a lengthier run than its projected 14-week season, it's a fascinating peep into film making behind-the-scenes. It's also deliriously funny.