When a friend had asked what was the first film that traumatized me, I didn’t have to think twice. It was JAWS. The combination of the music, the menacing shark, the thrashing of the people he attacked — it all left lasting impressions. I was sleepless for many nights. The film about this Great White shark wreaking havoc on a popular coastal resort town still haunts me to this day.
There’s a renewed interest in the classic Steven Spielberg film as it approaches its 50 anniversary. In fact, it was recently showing at the IMAX Theatre at Ontario Place and you can find it streaming on Amazon Prime Video. It’s a fun refresh if you haven’t seen it in a while.
Now, there’s a brilliant stage production that gives a bit more bite into the story. The Shark is Broken offers a behind-the-scenes look at what transpired during filming of JAWS. Set in Martha’s Vineyard, 1974, the filming stalls due to the repeated mechanical breakdown of the shark. The three main actors Robert Shaw (Quint), Roy Schneider (Brody), and a young fresh-faced Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper) waited out their time while “Bruce” the name given to the shark, was constantly being repaired. Tension between the actors were great and patience wore thin. This wasn’t all bonding good times over beers but the stories they told each other and the stories the world soon learned of made the film even more curious.
The Shark is Broken is co-written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon. Nominated for Best Comedy at the 2022 Olivier Awards, this brilliantly funny and deeply moving play takes audiences through the murky waters of one of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters.
The play’s original London cast have reprised their roles in Toronto with Ian Shaw playing his father, the seasoned actor Robert Shaw, alongside Demetri Goritsas as the calm and level headed Roy Scheider, and Liam Murray Scott as the fresh faced, hungry-to-make it big in Hollywood, Richard Dreyfuss. Incredible actors taking on their characters embracing body language and mannerisms spot on.
No doubt that Ian Shaw is a big draw for this production as no one else could probably fill these shoes better than his own son. But he’s also no stranger to theatre with credits including: War Horse, Common (National Theatre); Widowers’ Houses, The Importance of Being Earnest, Nude With Violin, The Philadelphia Story, The Brothers Karamazov (Manchester Royal Exchange); ThreeSisters (Nuffield/ Theatre Royal Bath); Private Lives, Closer (Birmingham Rep); The Rivals (Derby Playhouse/ Philadelphia Walnut St); The Tempest (SRT); Much Ado About Nothing (West End).
We had a chance to chat with Ian Shaw in Toronto to learn more about this play and what JAWS was like from his perspective…
The Indianapolis speech is considered the backbone of the film and this play. What can you tell us?
Ian Shaw: Originally it was very long. Howard Sackler (screenwriter) had a version which I think was maybe 5 to 7 pages long — we all know you can’t do that in a movie! You can’t just stand there and talk for hours and hours. So, they couldn’t really use it. John Meadows had a go of it and I think he got it down to 3 pages. Robert thought it was still unusable. It wasn’t, in his opinion, put in a very entertaining digestible form.
He asked Steven if he could rework it. He edited it and put in a couple things of his own. I tend to feel that the credit still belong with all three of them. Howard had the great idea but Quint should have a motive – he had an absolute mission to kill the shark including putting everyone’s lives at risk. His obsession was because of his experiences on the USS Indianapolis.
The stories within this play — where did you source them?
Ian Shaw: Joseph Nixon who is the co-writer of the play researched them and it’s not that hard to do. A lot of it is public knowledge because Steven gave interviews, Scheider, Dreyfuss, and my dad all gave interviews. They were very candid as well. You know, a lot of interviews at the time — my father spoke quite openly and of course my family have some of the stories. I think in those days, the interviews were just more candid. They weren’t necessarily trying to do interviews to promote their careers so much. If you watch the Dick Cavett show from the 70’s it was sometimes extraordinary. The tone and the truths revealed to the public it’s not like you’re watching the Tonight show nowadays.
Any stories you wish you could have included in the play but didn’t?
Ian Shaw: The sea-sickness was a thing which they experienced but it just didn’t naturally fall into any of the specific scenes. There were others but we didn’t want the play to be too long. When Joseph and I were writing we were thinking “what would we want to go and watch?” And I wanted it to be movie length. So it’s 90 minutes because that’s the kind of show I like unless it’s like, you know, Hamlet which you cannot do in 90 minutes. But something like this which is primarily a comedy with tragic bits? I think 90 minutes is a good run time.
As a child you had the opportunity to visit the set of the original film, any fond memories?
Ian Shaw: My striking memory, is meeting Bruce, I didn’t know at the time how privileged I was because it was completely under wraps. They didn’t want any photographs of it. They didn’t want to spoil the surprise! I got to meet the shark. But I was too young to sort of be hanging around when they were filming. We all know they didn’t do a lot filming anyway. At the time, they just waited for the shark to be mended.
Were you as scared as the shark as we were?
Ian Shaw: I was scared of it when I met it. And it was clearly a prop. But that was scary to me. I watched the film when I was little and I remember my dad being there. I was petrified. I actually stopped going into the swimming pool.
There’s something about the combination of the cinematography and the music and not knowing what was under your feet. So, if I was ever in water where I couldn’t see the bottom I would be like “no, I’m not doing that.”
I have heard that from others about not wanting to go into waters like that! So, can we talk about the pandemic we’re trying to surface from now? I feel like many can related to the three characters being stuck together for a long period of time. Thoughts?
Ian Shaw: Very much so! Yes, people have commented on that in London and related it to being in lockdown. But also the fact you are trapped and tensions can get to breaking point. We were okay but I was reading stories of people who did suffer mental health issues because they were shut in the whole time and not necessarily wanting to be with people they were with. Which is the case in this play.
There’s a whole new generation who might not have seen the original film. Do you need to see the film first?
Ian Shaw: No, you don’t. We had people who came to see it in London who hadn’t seen the film but I think even those who haven’t seen the film know that it’s a monster picture. You don’t really need to say a lot more than that. I obviously recommend people to see the film because I adore it myself. But if you have watched the movie then there are little “Easter eggs” within the play on the set and references that we make but they are not critical references. We’ve had people who loved the show who didn’t know JAWS and had no intentions of watching the film — which I found strange.
It’s the 50th anniversary in a couple of years so it will be everywhere. But I feel like it’s always on TV or playing somewhere so you can easily catch it.
The Shark Is Broken is currently on stage at The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto until November 6, 2022. While you’re there, be sure to grab a selfie with the shark in front of the theatre. The 10 ft tall, 280 lbs fibreglass statue created by artist Canadian artist Gerald McLaughlin, stands tall outside the entranceway!