West End Shark Warning!

The cast of The Shark is Broken.

REVIEW: The Shark is Broken by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon

Bo-ho rating. 5 out of 5! 🍷🍷🍷🍷🍷 Bo-ho Heaven.

Ambassadors Theatre, London.

The Shark might be Broken, but nothing else is in this petite, polished pearl of a new play in the West End of London. 

It’s 1974 in Martha’s Vineyard and this is the story of an episode during the making of one of the most successful films of all time – Jaws, Stephen Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Blenchley’s book. The broken shark in the title refers to Bruce – the name give to all three of the mechanical sharks made for the movie. (Bruce was also apparently the name of Spielbergs lawyer!) Due to frequent mechanical shark breakdowns, three very different actors are thrown together in the tiny cabin of the boat featured in the film, The Orca, for some two months longer than they expected, or wanted, to have to tolerate each other. Cold, bleak days roll into each other and tensions mount, self-doubts set-in and actors’ egos clash as youthful insecurity rubs-up against jaded experience.

With full disclosure, I am friends with most of the ‘Shark’ team. We were performing next door to each other at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019 with my productions, Romeo and Juliet and P.A.L.S.  I’d even had a discussion with writer and star Ian Shaw – son of Robert Shaw – about how wise or otherwise it is to present our real lives, even dramatised, on stage. Although, there is a difference between presenting the story of his world-famous Dad, and the four working-class kids I presented on stage with PALS!

But if anything, my familiarity with the project has made this production even more impressive. Yes, I’d seen it in previews in Edinburgh two years ago and I know the guys, but the constraints of Edinburgh, both in terms of running time and limited technical facilities, make this new production all the more impressive. 

For a start – it looks fantastic! The projection and lighting turns designer Duncan Henderson’s Boat into an extra character and gives complete context to the scene changes. The play is also some 20 minutes longer than the Edinburgh offering and although less is usually more, in this case, the action and relationships are  much better served. Director Guy Masterson finds all the right beats and accelerations and every moment with the fractious three and their nautical cabin fever feels completely true.  Or at least the fractious two. Demetri Goritsas plays Roy Schrider playing Chief Brody, a more calming influence than the hard-drinking Robert Shaw, played by Ian Shaw, his son, playing Quince and Liam Murray Scott, playing a young and idealistic Richard Dreyfus, playing Hooper. But the performances are also flawless, from Ian finding his Dad’s vocal intonations and rhythm, to Liam’s brilliant, leg smacking, coke-fuelled  Dreyfus excitement to Demetri’s measured and timely interventions. 

To be honest, this could have been a talking-heads disaster. But these are not impersonations in the traditional sense, although Robert Shaw lives again, thanks to Ian. And perhaps the greatest compliment to Shaw and Nixon’s script and the whole production is that you don’t really even need to have seen the film Jaws to appreciate this little nugget of aspiration, frustration and resolution. The one-act, 90 minutes will fly by. And you will want to see the film again. The Shark May Be Broken, but this Boat is Floating. Jump aboard while you still can.

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