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Review: The Shark is Broken is a wonderfully aquatic account of masculinity

How good is The Shark is Broken? It is quite good.

I admire it; partly because its surface exuberance seems to conceal a great melancholy, partly because it has the whiplash exactness of the best Edinburgh Fringe shows plus a good deal of intellectual resonance.

The Shark is Broken offers a glimpse at the overwrought relationship between the three stars of Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1975 film Jaws. Ian Shaw plays his own dad Robert who starred as Quint in the original blockbuster.

(from left) Ian Shaw (Robert Shaw), Demetri Goritsas (Roy Scheider) and Liam Murray Scott (Richard Dreyfuss) in The Shark Is Broken. Photograph: Helen Maybanks

And while things looked great on the screen, behind the scenes, the lead actors were trapped in a notorious feud; in addition, the mechanical sharks repeatedly broke down – something that inspired the play’s title.

As a film, it has been interpreted as everything from a depiction of masculinity in crisis to a post-Watergate paranoid parable about rotten bureaucracy. 

Guy Masterson’s production provides a new perspective on Spielberg’s film in this brooding, intelligent show. Shaw’s portrayal of his own father is bittersweet and tender.  

Staging it, however, poses problems, most of which Masterson’s production overcomes. The fishing boat to which the story is confined sits glossily on Nina Dunn’s video ocean backdrop. Surprisingly, the effect works. 

Meanwhile, Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s dialogue throughout is snappy and, crucially, hilarious when it counts. About Spielberg’s next picture, Roberts scoffs: “Aliens? What next, dinosaurs?”. 

Across the play’s 90-minute running time, addiction, love, regret, life, ambition, and masculinity are all unpacked and peppered between mock filming of the classic film. It felt to me that the shark off-screen becomes the means of exposing the men’s rootlessness, insecurity, and uncertain sense of self.

Their reservations about the blockbuster’s potential and anxiety over the inexperience of the young director play right into the mysterious nature of popular culture. And although there are few subtexts here, the portrayal of abrasive masculinity is all too recognisable and yet, in these fine performances, sympathetic and resonant.

Overall, the final impression of the making of Jaws is of frustration and emotion behind a posturing feud. It may take place in the past, but it says something that will always be current about our quest for meaning in a world in which it sometimes feels like that which we used to believe in and rely on no longer comforts us in the same way. 

Liam Murray Scott (Richard Dreyfuss), Ian Shaw (Robert Shaw), Demetri Goritsas (Roy Scheider)

I only hope the inventive work, which has just extended to 13 February 2022, gets through to the popular audience it deserves. Crucially, it’s a special play. 

The Shark is Broken runs at Ambassadors Theatre, London until 13 February 2022