Back for another year, Adam Meggido and Sean McCann of Showstoppers! fame return to wow us with what is possibly the most impressive improvisational feat at the Fringe.

Whilst Showstoppers! will always draw in the crowds (and rightly so), I can’t help but think that Rhapsodes might be a greater expression of improvisational skill.

In each show, the two men compete and cooperate in their daily endeavour to create a Shakespearean masterpiece from scratch. Naturally, audience suggestions form a key of part of the show, with the main story being inspired by the life of an audience member’s extraordinary relative – in this case, an Irish woman who shot Mussolini. But what really takes the show to the next level is their astounding repertoire of references. They can call up the most obscure allusion in an instant and all within the constraints of iambic pentameter.

One extraordinary example involved a section where the pair would get audience members to suggest the first noun that came into their head. They would then expand upon this word, explaining how it related as a metaphor or a simile for the situation that the characters found themselves in. When confronted with suggestion of a cow, McCann not only took it at its base level but burst into a long and elaborate reference about Pasiphae, mother of the infamous Minotaur. The classicist within me did a conga. Such quick thinking is simply jaw-dropping.

Modern references and allusions also come thick and fast, with topics like ‘cricket’ or ‘gardening’ proving no barrier to the pair’s skills. Improvised Shakespeare is not the only thing you’ll be getting for the price of your ticket. Pinter, Poe and Chaucer’s styles and schemes are also utilised throughout. Meggido shows a particular ability to manufacture pairs of rhyming couplets for words that you think shouldn’t even work but somehow do.

Whilst Showstoppers! will always draw in the crowds (and rightly so), I can’t help but think that Rhapsodes might be a greater expression of improvisational skill. In many ways, it is beyond comparison. This show needs to be seen by everyone. There is no reasonable excuse for not going.

Reviews by James Beagon

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The Blurb

From the creators of Olivier Award-winning Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, this is competitive improv as you've never seen it. Honouring ancient Athenian traditions, two rhapsodes, Adam Meggido and Sean McCann, compete to improvise a fully authentic Shakespearean masterpiece on the spot. Featuring rap, poetry slams and any writer from the last 3,000 years, Rhapsodes will change the way you think about improv and possibly Shakespeare. A unique celebration of the poetic, the dramatic and the absurdly comic. 'Intelligent, uproarious, laugh-a-minute fare' **** (Telegraph). 'Jaw-droppingly extraordinary' ***** (BroadwayBaby.com). 'Hilarious. The bard has never been this much fun' ***** (ThreeWeeks).