Despite the tremors caused by the Watergate scandal and the loss of the Vietnam War, the United States would be the richest country in the world for the next three decades and in Jaws Steven Spielberg announced himself as his main creator of myths.
This sharp, shark-tooth comedy, which has swam relatively smoothly all the way to the West End since the Edinburgh Festival 2019, is an enjoyable three-way tale of near-disasters behind the scenes in the film’s final sequence. We find ourselves trapped on a boat with actors Roy Scheider (Demetri Goritsas), Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) and Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw) as they battle ego conflicts, the effects of cocaine and whiskey. and faulty animatronic sharks.
It’s part of the story of this production that actor and co-writer Ian Shaw is Robert’s real son (Joseph Nixon is the other writer), and he surprisingly brings it to life in his biting and charismatic performance. With memorable phrases like “Fame is crap art” and “Remember what WC Fields said about water? You should avoid it. ‘Fish fuck in it’ ”, it is the nod to the geek Scheider, the geek of Scott, Dreyfuss and Goritsas.
At the end of the shoot, Jaws was more than twice its original budget of $ 3.5 million, scenes were still being written, and the film as a whole was threatened by the constant shark blackouts (there were three, all named Bruce after Spielberg’s lawyer). At the age of 27, Spielberg was not yet a confirmed director; Through the interaction between the three characters, we see how dangerously thin the line was between Jaws be the very first blockbuster in cinema or go deeper than the Mariana Trench.
Guy Masterson’s production is remarkably enhanced by Nina Dunn’s video design (in photo below) which projects a moving sea and vast skies that subtly translate the passage from day to night to day. As Dreyfuss, Shaw, and Scheider bicker, the storyline relies heavily on hindsight to sharpen its humor. At one point, Scheider wonders aloud if there will ever be a president more immoral than Nixon. In another – after explaining that sharks have survived five mass extinction events – he speculates on how climate change might cause the next one.
The three actors complement each other well; Goritsas’ dry delivery offers a nice contrast to Scott and Shaw’s more mercurial trajectories. A common joke is that each actor considers himself to be the star of the film, and quarrels increase with levels of inebriation. Shaw is the whiskey addicted alcoholic who generously hides bottles around the tray. As inhibitions drop, he hits Dreyfuss insecurities more and more ruthlessly – in another joke reinforced by hindsight, he dryly pokes fun at the actor’s aspirations that he can one day appear in a Shakespeare.
The timing of the transfer of course gives the script a new resonance. As the UK sprints ahead of the rest of Europe in Covid infections, we are all grimly aware of Boris Johnson’s light-hearted comparisons between his attitude and that of Jaws‘Mayor Vaughn, politician of profit over security. In 1975, it was an example of a cavalier attitude that was overshadowed by events and the ragged heroism of others. It is today an example of the decadence that makes Western democracy the laughing stock of those who line up to challenge it.
It brings a poignant odd to the diatribes of three men who, despite all their flaws and doubts, were on the verge of extraordinary success. Life, we all know by now, wasn’t that bad when all you had to worry about was the wayward, albeit costly, antics of some animatronic sharks. Thanks to the writing and the performances, there is a lot of laughs on offer here. But it’s also somewhat sobering to think that the Killer Shark was the product of a brief moment when it seemed individualism and democracy had won; now that western politics have – well – hopped the shark, who knows what new predators are in store for us?