If you’re a ‘Jaws’ fan, or into exploring the nooks and crannies of American movie history, you’re best-placed to enjoy this likeable if slightly navel-gazing three-hander set entirely on a boat: a watery location for Steven Spielberg’s 1975 cinematic game-changer. Actors Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw), Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) and Roy Scheider (Demetri Goritsas), loll about together on the repurposed fishing trawler, waiting to shoot scenes as an unseen Spielberg and crew deal with production troubles, especially that giant broken fake shark.
Despite brief mentions of Richard Nixon, there’s little sense of the outside world here. It’s a testosterone fest as the three male movie stars rub alongside each other or rub each other up, with two of them, Shaw and Dreyfuss, prone to alcohol or drug-influenced outbursts and rows. Most of the chat is about acting and movies and a changing world (with a few too many hindsight gags; Shaw is given a special power of prophecy with his complaint about the coming wave of ‘sequels and remakes’; you half-expect him to moan about ‘Avengers 23’). There’s not a woman in sight (or barely a mention of one). Even the unseen animatronic shark is called Bruce. It’s larky and occasionally pensive, and good on the vulnerabilities of actors.
The play has Shaw as rakish, morose, drunk, angry and reflective, with Dreyfuss as bouncy, anxious and full of the arrogance of youth, with Scheider essentially caught between the two, calmer, a little dull. It avoids putting the knife in; it’s a sympathetic endeavour and swerves darker moments pretty swiftly in favour of easy, unchallenging humour. What’s most interesting about this production, which started life in summer 2019 in Brighton and Edinburgh, is that Ian Shaw is playing his father Robert, who died not long after making ‘Jaws’, when Ian was only eight. Shaw also originated and co-wrote the play, so it’s curious to imagine what’s being projected onto this story and characterisation by a son still trying to understand and make a voyage around his late father.
Shaw’s own performance as Robert – the likeness is uncanny for anyone who remembers him as Quint in the film – is definitely the highlight. He plays him as sodden and volatile, clearly an alcoholic and tough to be around, even if this production sidesteps full-blown gloom in favour of an uneasy camaraderie between this acting trio. All of which is amusing to witness even if it never feels especially incisive in its observations about human weakness, male egos and relationships between men who are never sure if they’re comrades or rivals.