“The Shark is Broken” Review: One of the Greatest Movies spawns One of the Greatest Plays

I have done many book reviews, some album reviews, and numerous movie reviews (primarily related to my research about disaster movies), but this will be my first review of a play. At the weekend I went to see “The Shark is Broken” at the Ambassador’s Theatre in London.

Warning: This post contains some spoilers relating to both the movie and the play. I try to limit these, but I am assuming that if you are reading this, you are either just wanting to find out more about the play (perhaps before deciding to go or not yourself… in which case the answer is simply “Go!”) or just wanting to relive the enjoyment you had in watching yourself. I don’t think that reading this post will negatively impact your enjoyment if you read it before going to see it, but if you’re not sure, either leave now or stop when you get to the picture taken at the end of the play as there will be some more text after that which you may not want to read (there is an additional spoiler warning when you get to that point).

The first thing to note is that the play itself is on a limited run in London and the theatre itself is relatively small. That intimacy adds to the atmosphere and feeling that you have been time warped back to the 1970s and are privy to the goings on aboard Orca as the three actors, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss (note the order) battle with the problems of filming Jaws when the mechanical sharks aren’t being co-operative. But it also means it’s hard to get tickets – so hurry up and get yours.

I am a massive fan of Jaws. It is without doubt my favourite movie and I have written before about how often I used to watch it and also about how I have been to Martha’s Vineyard where most of the movie was made. Despite the number of times that I have seen the movie – and can probably still recite large chunks of the script – I still decided that the best way to spend my Saturday afternoon was to rewatch the movie.

Having watched the movie again, I made my way up to London and just enjoyed taking in the outside of the theatre. I knew that the play is about the making of movie, not a dramatization of the movie itself, but I had a good feeling about how much I was going to enjoy it and I wanted to take in every little detail.

I cannot remember when I first learnt about “The Shark is Broken”. But of course I do remember immediately being struck by just how similar Ian Shaw looks like his dad. There is one picture outside of the theatre of Shaw, and I still struggle to be sure which Shaw it is (try saying that sentence if you’ve had as much to drink as Robert Shaw on the set of Jaws).

Of course, even ordinarily Ian looks a like his dad. And in the play, even more so. But, we cannot expect the other two actors to look like their counterparts. However, as you can see from the following publicity photograph, they’re not a bad likeness either.

Source: https://thesharkisbroken.com/content/uploads/2021/09/Cast-Image-Treated-with-Text-Web-scaled.jpg

Another picture outside the theatre…

Due to the Covid rules, we had been asked to stagger our entrance to the theatre, and I was in at my allotted time – 45 minutes before the start. It’s a bit pointless as many of us squashed into the small bar and we were then closely packed in the theatre, but at least it keeps the queue outside short, which on colder or wetter days than when I went will probably be a good thing.

I then went into the theatre itself and went to get myself a drink and a copy of the programme. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more merchandise, but it’s probably just as well!

The programme

I went to take my seat. And there I was confronted by the stage. I was completely blown away. The eye for detail was amazing. Other than one side of the boat missing, it looked so much like the one I had been watching earlier in the day (albeit a little less wet than when I last saw it). And, if it’s even close to life size, then no wonder it was felt they needed a bigger boat (sorry, I had to get a reference to that line in – especially as I was wearing a Jaws T-shirt with that line on it when I went to the show).

With time to spare, I planned to enjoy my drink and read the programme. This turned out to be very difficult as the lighting was such that I couldn’t make out the text easily, so I just enjoyed my drink and continue to lap up the occasion.

At just after 19:30, the lights went down and the play started. And yes (sorry, spoiler alert), it begins with the Jaws theme tune. I really wasn’t sure if this iconic music would be used – would they be allowed to? – but it came as such a delight that it was. But it’s not long before the music comes to a stop and the play itself begins in earnest.

Now, this is going to be a honest review, so I’m going to say that after the massive build up (admittedly in my own mind) and the theme tune, the start of the dialogue felt it was lacking some power. But that’s the whole point, I suspect. There’s no dramatic backing music. There’s no playing with sounds or voices. This is a form of Jaws in the raw. It’s about the making of the movie, it’s not the movie itself. I think it needs the start it has to get all of us on the same page (and that word is chosen very deliberately as those of you have seen the play may appreciate).

We start off with Scheider and Dreyfuss on stage. Yes, Demetri Goritsas and Liam Murray Scott don’t look exactly Scheider and Dreyfuss, but, through the combination of wearing the recognisable clothes from the film and their voices (certain lines and words are so like the original actors it really is uncanny), you become sucked into believing it’s really them and that we really are spying on the making of the movie. Of course, when Ian Shaw makes his entrance the suspension of disbelief is complete. It’s like Robert Shaw was with us. Perhaps in spirit(s) he was.

As well as watching the movie many times and having been to Martha’s Vineyard, I have also read some books about the making of the movie. You don’t need to have done any of these to enjoy the play. Why anyone hasn’t watched Jaws is beyond me, but each to their own, I suppose. But I can assure you that what is in the play – including a moment when a sailing boat goes by – is very faithful to the accounts written about the making of the movie. Yes, I am sure there is some dramatic/poetic license in the content – this is not meant to be a stage-based documentary – but it contains so many “pillars of truth” that it could be.

On top of this, there are many “Easter eggs” to the movie. I spotted so many – my favourite coming from Dreyfuss as he passes by a window – but I suspect that I missed many more (another reason to watch it again).

One of the photographs above is a review of the play. I suspect many people just walk past this and not read it. You really should read it. I am so glad that I did. I already knew in essence what the play is about, but the review points to one of the key elements of the play and the movie itself. We’re talking about Quint’s discussion of the USS Indianapolis and the delivery of the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima. This is a scene which I still include in some of my lectures about Japan and about history (this aspect also features in a chapter for a book on Japanese movies in which I discuss the portrayal of “truth” which will be published in 2022). So the thought that this would appear in the play really excited me.

What we get in the play is an insight into all three characters. And in relation to Quint, some of the personal battles he was facing. This includes the battles with the bottle and the impact this had on the Indianapolis monologue – “monologue” seems the wrong word as it tends to have a negative nuance. Given the references to Shakespeare in the play, perhaps “soliloquy” would be more appropriate and weighty-sounding, though given the original meaning of the word (“an act of speaking one’s thoughts aloud when by oneself or regardless of any hearers, especially by a character in a play”) it doesn’t work either. It’s not a lecture either. Anyway, in the play we see the trouble there was over this dialogue. It was so powerful. I wonder, was watching Jaws for the first time with my dad on TV the first time I learnt about the bombing of Hiroshima?

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the play for me was that it raised a question which I had never considered before about the movie. What is Jaws about? It’s surprising that I have never really stopped to consider this before as I tend to think there is at least one moral (or lesson) in any story – this is what we are trained as when we are kids (“… and the moral of the story is…”), and it’s certainly a feature of many of my favourite novels, movies, and something I test in my own novels. I even remember having a rather heated discussion in a class when I was a university student about whether Terminator 2 was just a movie and entertainment or actually about us learning about the dangers of AI.

The play itself points to aspects about what Jaws was about. And I get all of these. But I think there is something additional. Something that the play itself brings to the fore. Humans are incredibly complex and we cannot be pigeon-holed into certain types. But that doesn’t stop people from trying. I have included in my classes and academic writing (albeit the version in my book Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan ended up with an error for a reason I cannot fathom) the Japanese analogy about three types of people and how this relates to three key men from Japan’s history (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu), looking at how you respond to a bird that doesn’t sing (鳴かぬなら、殺してしまえほととぎす: If a bird doesn’t sing, kill it. 鳴かぬなら、鳴かして見せようほととぎす: If a bird doesn’t sing, make it. 鳴かぬなら、鳴くまで待とうほととぎす: If a bird doesn’t sing, wait for it).

“The Shark is Broken” shows us three very different people. And while there are undoubtedly many other types of people (or combinations thereof), I think many of us would identify with one more than the other two.

While I know a lot about Jaws, I know less about the three actors. Roy Scheider, I only associate with Jaws. Richard Dreyfuss, of course, I know from many other enjoyable movies (Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Always – two more collaborations with Steven Spielberg – being stand outs). As for Robert Shaw – my knowledge of him was largely limited to Jaws, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (which is also excellent), his drink and financial battles, and knowing that he died tragically young. I learnt much more about him in the play. One aspect was another piece of sadness (a quick bit of maths during the play confirmed that). The other relates to his desire to be known as a writer. I had no idea about this. A quick search suggests that he didn’t get to do as much in this area as he wanted – the writing credits I found all pre-date Jaws. This is such a shame. But I hope, at least, that he came to understand that one piece of writing that he did do – the Indianapolis delivery – was an outstanding piece of writing, which he then delivered spectacularly. If you’ve not seen it before, at the very least watch the clip on YouTube (I’ve added a link to one version here – hopefully it will remain there), even if you don’t watch the whole of Jaws.

Is “The Shark is Broken” only for fans of Jaws? Absolutely not. Yes, they will get the most out of it. But the play, like the Indianapolis delivery is for everyone. And you really should watch it. It’s only open for a few weeks, so be sure to book your tickets soon. There’s a link here – which may stop working once the play ends its run, I guess. I hope after London, if goes on tour (come to Cardiff, please). At the very least, can we please, please, please have a DVD release of it (and two versions on the disc – one as an audience at the theatre would see it and the other with close ups)? I know it won’t be the same as the play experience, but this play needs to be immortalised on DVD (and Jaws fans will buy anything related to the film, so it would be a way to ensure the amazing cast and crew get additional financial reward).

On my way home I finally started reading the programme. Now, I am the first to admit that I am terrible with names. I am even worse with remembering the cast of movies, TV programmes, etc. But anyway, I started to reading the programme and got to the page about Ian Shaw (I hope it’s OK to include it here)…

As I’d just seen Shaw as his dad, I didn’t particularly stop to look at the image, but read the words. And there, the last entry for his television credits is the word “Hiroshima“. I then looked at the picture and immediately realised that he had played Captain Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, in the BBC docu-drama about the bombing of Hiroshima. I have seen many documentaries and movies about the bombing of Hiroshima (see for example my posts on Hiroshima and Kuroi Ame/Black Rain), but the BBC programme is the best one in my view and one that I have regularly shown to my students. Shaw is amazing in this. I find it incredible that “The Shark is Broken” is linked to Hiroshima in two ways – the Indianapolis delivery in Jaws and Ian Shaw’s role in Hiroshima. What is even more incredible is that I tweeted about this and Ian Shaw liked these tweets… at precisely the moment that I was boosting my score on Duolingo (I am mostly using it for learning Swedish, but also do some Japanese to ensure I don’t get relegated from the top division and so I can see what my students who use Duolingo get to experience) and the lesson involved the word “Hiroshima” several times. I suppose that’s another strange link to Hiroshima for me (that’s a topic for another day) and yet another strange coincidence that I have experienced (read my book Dealing with Disaster in Japan about my research on the JL123 plane crash for another).

One thing should certainly be clear by now, Ian Shaw is a great writer (he is the co-author the play) and actor in his own right – he’s more than just someone making the most of his likeness to his father and the link to world’s first movie blockbuster, Jaws.

I called this blog “”The Shark is Broken” Review: One of the Greatest Movies spawns One of the Greatest Plays”. I included the “one of the” parts so as to not put off some people from reading the review. My honest opinion is that The Greatest Movie has Spawned the Greatest Play. I have managed to get references to Jaws into some of my academic writing, and also into one of my novels (Tokyo 20/20 Vision) so far, but now I wonder how I can include “The Shark is Broken”. I am so happy that I saw it once, but I hope to see it again (and then on DVD many, many more times).

Sadly, I didn’t get a picture of the there actors after the play ended (I’m a more of a play-by-the rules Roy Scheider type, I guess, so didn’t want to take out my phone – plus I was too busy standing and clapping), but below is the final view of the theatre before I left. As we left, Show Me The Way To Go Home played out over the speakers. I had wondered whether people (even the actors) would join in with the song at the end (even before going to the show) – but it wouldn’t have felt right and would have devalued what we had just experienced. Playing the song at a respectful volume was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.

The post continues below the picture, but contains a spoiler, so stop now if you don’t want to read that.

The play largely moves forward in chronological order. Naturally, we don’t follow every minute of every day or even every day. That would be a very long play. The jumps between days is largely done through the lighting, changes in the characters persona, and through a sound effect that sounds like a tape being fast forwarded. The play seems to be coming to an end when it’s announced that the filming of Jaws has essentially finished. I am sure that I was not the only one who felt a tinge of disappointment at this point. Why? Because so much was about the Indianapolis delivery, but we never got to experience the whole thing. Given that we’d seen a couple of stabs at it and how pivotal it is to the movie, it was jarring.

But then, the tape fast forward sound came on in the dark. But it wasn’t a fast forward. It was a rewind. And then the actors came back and performed that scene.

Wow.

Just wow.

Having seen the scene on TV earlier that day, many times before on TV, and so many times in classes with my students, to see if being played out in front of me by Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss was totally amazing. I really don’t mean any disrespect to Ian Shaw, Demetri Goritsas, and Liam Murray Scott in writing that previous sentence. In fact, it’s the opposite. After 90 minutes, they had played their roles so well, I was sure that I was there on Orca with them, the original actors. I still don’t understand how I didn’t cry with the emotion of the experience. (If I were to make one small critical comment, it would be that Shaw says “bomb” too much like “bomb” and less like “bum” as it sounds in the movie)

As I wrote above, Hiroshima comes up in some of my teaching and writing. And I have managed to include Jaws too. I am currently working on my next novel and this will have a further Hiroshima link. I must get more discussion of Robert Shaw’s incredible masterpiece in that. Due to when the book is set, I won’t be able to bring in “The Shark is Broken” (that will have to wait for another book), but at least I can mention Ian Shaw and his work in Hiroshima.

Perhaps one day there will be an opportunity to meet Ian Shaw and learn more about the two roles, but until then I will content myself with the memory of having seen such an amazing play and seeing the Indianapolis speech delivered so brilliantly just a few feet from me.

Update (21/11/2021): I have just come across this very interesting article where Ian Shaw talks about the link between “the bomb”, his father, and the play. I would still love to meet with Ian Shaw one day to discuss this more myself.

Update (24/01/2022): See my post about when I went to see the play again as part of special Jaws day (when I did get to meet Ian Shaw too).

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