The Shark Is Broken

It was the great American writer Gore Vidal who once said…

“Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.”

I’m not sure what that says about Gore Vidal, or the type of people he called friends. I have a slightly different view.  If any one of my friends finds any sort of success I’m going to shout and cheer…and cling on as tightly as I can to their coat tails hoping some of the magic may rub off.

Maybe it’s because I know how hard it is to achieve success.  In my own life I’ve been very lucky, or blessed, as Ken Dodd always used to say about his good fortune.  But there’s still a little nagging in the back of my mind that I’ve not achieved everything I want to achieve.  I’ve been close, I mean really close on a number of occasions, but so often I’ve been one piece short of a complete jigsaw, that missing piece of the ‘success’ Jenga puzzle that made all of my dreams collapse around me.

 ‘Hope deferred maketh the heart sick’

I’m not complaining because I’m still enjoying life’s twist and turns but the truth is continual disappointments can damage you.  You’ve got to be tough, or maybe stupid, to get back up and try again.

This week on The Mal & Johnny Show podcast, Johnny Tudor and I got to chat to an old friend of mine named Guy Masterson.  I can’t really remember the first time I met Guy, but it must be 20-25 years ago.  Guy has an amazing personal story.  His uncle was Richard Burton and he has endless tales about spending time with his uncle Richie when was at the height of his fame.

He went to University to study Biochemistry and Chemistry and then went to the USA to work as a waiter before finally succumbing to the inevitable and entering the world of the theatre.


I suppose the ‘Burton’ connection might have helped open some doors along the way, but Guy has had to carve out his own career and he’s been incredibly resourceful, and successful.  For many months of the year he tours the world on his own in a one man show.  Sometimes he’s all of the characters in ‘Under Milkwood’ and every Christmas he is every human and ghost in ‘A Christmas Carol’.  I expect it was during one of those tours many years ago we would have met, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Guy Masterson, Michael Bogdanov, Mal Pope (London, March 2017)

The last time we met together was with the Olivier award winning director Michael Bogdanov who had directed and produced my musicals about the Welsh Revival and Tommy Farr.  We had big plans for a new show which sadly went onto the back burner with that sudden passing of Michael.

We spoke on the radio last Christmas.  With theatres closed Guy was planning a live stream of his ‘A Christmas Carol’ together with the release of an audio version online…as I said Guy is resourceful.

I think I was scrolling through twitter last week when I saw a post from Guy about a new show he was working on that was about to open in the West End. It had an intriguing title ‘The Shark is Broken’. After clicking on the show’s website and reading a few reviews I sent Guy a message asking if he would be free to join Johnny and I on the podcast show.

When we hooked up with Guy he was watching a live interview on SKY news with one of the cast members, Ian Shaw, who had also co-written the show.  Looking at his face as we waited to start recording I could see the joy of a man seeing some of his dreams come true before his very eyes.

So, here’s the back story.  Guy has been friends with actor Ian Shaw for 30 years.  Guy and Ian had a lot in common. Both had strong male relatives who had struggled with success and fame and alcohol.  Guy knew only too well the demons Burton faced.  Ian’s father was the actor Robert Shaw who drank from the same glass as Burton.

Ian Shaw looking remarkably like his father Robert

Ian Shaw had always kept a respectable distance from his father’s career until one day he looked in the mirror.  He had grown a moustache for a role he was playing and as he stared in the looking glass he saw his father staring back at him. At that moment he knew the time was right to look at his fathers career, but what was the story he could tell?

Guy said it was a couple of years ago that he got a call from Ian. Ian had an idea for a play.

One of Robert Shaw’s most famous roles was that of Quint, a seasoned shark hunter who is brought in to rid the beach town of Amity Island of the great White Shark that is destroying their holiday industry.  The film ‘Jaws’ went on to be a massive box office success, but its production was not without problems.  Steven Spielberg had decided he wanted to ensure the realism of the film by taking the production out of the studio and onto the sea. 

Whilst adding to realism filming at sea meant days lost for bad weather, passing ships in the background and a mechanical shark that kept on breaking down. (The Shark is Broken)

An 8 week shoot became 16 weeks and the 3 main actors found themselves set adrift together on their small boat the ORCA.  In the film Quint, the old man of the sea played by Robert Shaw is constantly at odds with the young Oceanographer Hooper played by Richard Dreyfus.  Quint is the old hand, Hooper the cocky young gun.

The thing was these characters were similar to the actors in real life.  Shaw was an old experienced hand used to doing the ‘job’ whereas Dreyfus was seen by some to be a new breed of actor, arrogant and rather pleased with themselves. The rivalry in the film was soon seen off camera too.

Richard Dreyfus said in a TV documentary that ‘while privately Shaw had a kind and gentle demeanour on set he was possessed by some evil troll that would make him his victim’.  The other lead actor from the film, Roy Schneider, said Shaw was ‘bothered by Dreyfus’s inexperienced haughtiness and decided to put the young actor in his place.’

The magic of the confrontation between Shaw and Dreyfuss was at the heart of the film and everything that happened off screen helped to give a reality to their acting.

In that conversation with Guy, Ian said he wanted to write a play about the three main characters from Jaws and set it on the boat The Orca.  Guy knew it was a brilliant idea.  A few weeks later they had the first draft of the script and then the show went to Edinburgh where it got 5 star reviews.

This week ‘The Shark is Broken’ opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London to queues down the street for tickets and a buzz around the business that smells of success. 

On the day we chatted to Guy, the world’s press were descending on the theatre including CBS America. I said to Guy that he must be incredibly excited to see the excitement building.  He allowed himself a smile.  He told me he had previously taken 5 shows into the West End.  Each time he had wondered if this was the ‘break through’ production.  He told me if it is a success that would be terrific but as of next week he’s back rehearsing ‘A Christmas Carol’.

I think this is Guy’s time and no one deserves it more.

Oh, and there is more to that earlier quote than many people remember…

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”