This loving, if uneven, tribute to Robert Shaw is confined to the Orca during the filming of Jaws, mid-summer, 1974. Shaw is evoked by his son Ian, who takes a personal tight-rope walk between tribute and closure. Impression is not a strong enough way to describe his performance. You’d be hard pushed to claim it wasn’t the man himself.
Shaw is joined on Duncan Henderson’s brilliantly designed set by Liam Murray Scott as Richard Dreyfuss and Demetri Goritsas as Roy Scheider. Scott brings across Dreyfuss’ cocaine-fuelled neuroticism nicely and gets the best of Shaw’s leftovers, whilst Goristas is left to make end’s meet of his underwritten role.
The play gives us a glimpse into the fraught relationships on set, during the frequent and long periods when Bruce (the big boy shark), wasn’t functional. The dialogue between our three leads is evidently the result of in-depth and nostalgic revisiting of not only Jaws, but behind-the-scenes documentaries, Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log, and – you’d have to assume – stories from Dad.
Despite the thoughtfully constructed world built by Shaw and co-writer Joseph Nixon, we are frequently pulled away by awkward asides, third-wall breaking in-jokes that wink so hard at the audience they set fire to the play’s hard won authenticity.
Still, the play’s structure – built around Quint’s famous Indianapolis speech – offers a deeply felt pathos that justifies the callbacks to Shakespeare and thespians of days gone by. There is a warm beating heart at the centre of The Shark is Broken, not just for Steven Spielberg’s famous film, but for the flaws of fatherhood, the challenges of artistry, and how we cherish the films that mean most to us.
The Shark Is Broken continues at The Ambassador Theatre until 15th January. Book tickets here
Review by Duncan Clark and Liam Sousa Casey
Photography by Helen Maybanks