It feels rather poetic, having witnessed the full spectrum of improvisation at this year’s Fringe, for my final review to focus on the true cream of the crop. Adam Meggido and Sean McCann, both of whom are founding members of the popular Showstopper! The Improvised Musical and Shakespearean supremos The School of Night, raced through an hour of dizzying improv games and challenges, using the compelling basis of a competition to determine who would be crowned that day’s ‘Rhapsode’, in the Ancient Greek tradition.
The duo were immediately at pains to emphasise their ‘authentic channeling’ of the Bard, underlining the importance of language and the tightening of what they termed their ‘Bardic taps’ to produce a successful show. They achieved this by addressing audience members in iambic pentameter as they entered the room, before asking individuals to offer famous lines from Shakespeare, in order to demonstrate their point that particular plays were written with a fixed linguistic structure. Consequently, they outlined the clear procedures and limitations of their improvisation and engagement with Shakespeare, laying the foundations for the rest of the show, much as a particularly talented magician might, who knows they have nothing to fear from explaining the rules of a trick to their audience. After all, successful improvisation is about maintaining the illusion of chance.
“a demonstration of supreme theatrical improvisation and as homage to Shakespeare’s linguistic diversity and ingenuity”
This show was unafraid to reference pop culture and Shakespeare’s position in modern society. For instance, they amusingly suggested that, even in his own lifetime, ‘Shakespeare’s comedies weren’t funny’ and further considered whether Shakespeare constructed his history plays by ‘binge watching Game of Thrones in a weekend’. Not only did this prove Meggido and McCann’s grasp of the current Shakespearean zeitgeist, but it put emphasis on the playwright’s accessibility.
Another of the show’s great strengths was its educational value, without this ever becoming inaccessibly academic for a Fringe audience. This involved the performers using various other canonical writers such as Chaucer, Poe and Pinter to tighten their ‘Bardic taps’. Most impressive was when Meggido was called on by McCann to deliver an improvised Shakespeare monologue, using the four bodily humours which were part of Shakespearean cosmology, inherited from ancient Greek philosophy: melancholic, phlegmatic, choleric and sanguine. Using a blackboard, they broke down the meaning of each and then transferred this into performance. It was moments like these that made Rhapsodes so successful, both as a demonstration of supreme theatrical improvisation and as homage to Shakespeare’s linguistic diversity and ingenuity.
Pleasance Dome, 14th – 28th August, 14:00
Image: Extempore Theatre