Rhapsodes is a competitive Shakespearean improvisation show. The title stems from the Hellenic accolade of being a performer of poetry. The duo, Sean McCann and Adam Meggido, take inspiration for their story from the audience, who help them direct the improvisation by providing anecdotes, which the pair can build on and work into spontaneous routines.
The audience can choose from four categories: comedy, tragedy, romance or late play. Once a selection has been made, according to the loudest cheer, the duo begin to construct a narrative. Their efforts are made all the more impressive as they pastiche various playwrights: they perform iambic pentameter in a Shakespearean style, as well as emulate the theatre of Dylan Thomas, Beckett, Pinter, Ionesco and Chekhov, and even the undulating tone of Dr Seuss. The subjects of their material change depending on the day, since it is completely shaped by the audience suggestions.
There are some structuring elements going on in Rhapsodes. There is a ‘Neptune’s fist’ speech where the pair ask the audience to chuck out random nouns for them to forge into rhymes. ‘Liquorice’ for McCann was a particularly good one, which he worked into a verbal sting, although Meggido managed to invent a clever riposte on the spot by saying ‘It takes all sorts’. There is also bawdy pub dialogue, which is again shaped by audience suggestions. McCann and Meggido both have a commendable skill in manufacturing material so quickly: as they vie to win the wreath for best poet, they brilliantly display their intelligence and wit.
Rhapsodes is like watching two literary behemoths duke it out. Meggido has to perform a monologue while shifting through the four Elizabethan temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic. These are essentially: very happy, angry, very sad and brooding (something akin to Roger Moore they say). The fun part of Rhapsodes is that educational and artistic, since you feel like you learn a bit about the literary canon and styles through the ages. It’s quite self-congratulatory, but when you’ve got a talent like these two have, why not flaunt it? This show is a prime example of just how superb improvisation can be.