4/5 Stars

★★★★ Dazzling Improv

Charles Blake reviews Rhapsodes at the Pleasance, Edinburgh

Improv doesn’t get much harder than this. Adam Meggido and Sean McCann, stars of Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, return to the Fringe as “Rhapsodes”—a term used in ancient Greece for competitive poets. Over the course of an hour, they create an improvised play, weaved out of a dozen different poetic and theatrical styles, which is as extraordinary as it is funny.

Rhapsodes is a masterclass in improv poetry, and something that few other performers could even attempt. The confidence with which the two of the leapt into verse, so sure that the rhymes would come to them, was dazzling from the first minute to the last. I was concerned at the outset that such a premise might get tedious after a while, but the show was so well structured and so varied that the audience was on the edge of their seats throughout.

To give an example, the show starts with a Chaucerian epilogue, which was improvised in the same meter (and even pronunciation!) as The Canterbury Tales. It then slips into Shakespearean iambic pentameter, which is the show’s go-to form, taking brief interludes to sample other poetic styles, such as Edgar Allan Poe, and Dr. Seuss, to name a few. Almost every style they sampled was performed to perfection, and they managed to weave together a story through all of this too! 

I can’t stress how difficult this looks. There’s something refreshing about seeing such a talented duo, who could perform something brilliant and yet stay within their comfort zone, push themselves beyond that and really test their (already remarkable) skills. At times the difficulty of the performance may have gotten in the way of the storytelling a touch, but if, like me, you enjoy poetry and you enjoy improv, this really can’t be missed.

Rhapsodes runs at Pleasance Dome until August 27th.

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