The Brilliant Fassah

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

11/03/2006 - 15/04/2006

Production Details

by Tim Spite, James Ashcroft & Gabe McDonnell

SEEyD Company

“It’s a bit like being a human radio. Imagine listening to ZM FM, that doesn’t mean THE BREEZE doesn’t exist, it’s just on another frequency.”

A new work from the multi-award-winning SEEyD Company in association with Circa Theatre.

This dramatic comedy couples spiritualityy with skepticism, the faithful with the fraudulent and ask of us where we stand in between.

Tim Spite
Amy Tarleton
James Ashcroft

set - Sven Mezou’
lighting - Leo Gene Peters
sound design - Gil Eva Craig

Theatre ,

1 hr 30 min, no interval

Engaging, entertaining and quite touching

Review by Matthew Wagner 26th Mar 2006

From start to finish, the SEEyD Company’s The Brilliant Fassah is a thoroughly enjoyable evening of theatre.   

Devisers Spite, Ashcroft, and McDonnell set out to explore the issue of spiritual channelling.  The story that becomes the vehicle for this exploration centres on Nathan, a sceptical math teacher who, in spite of not believing in such things, becomes possessed by the spirit of a 2000-year-old Italian psychic named Fassah.   

After his initial resistance to this possession, he accepts not only that such things can happen, but that it is happening, and to him.  The question for Nathan, his wife, and their new neighbour, then becomes one of what to do with this phenomenon, and here the tale begins to turn into more of a character study than it is a look into other worlds.  Does one literally try to capitalize on new found psychic abilities?  Can spiritual possession save a marriage? Can you fall in love with a 2000-year old psychic presence? 

Such questions cause the narrative of this dramatic comedy to occasionally drag, and also, in many places, to become predictable; yet the smart, crisp theatrical execution of the tale kept me engaged even when I could see what was coming next.  All three actors put in performances that range from solid to excellent, with the immensely watchable Tim Spite in the lead.  Each actor takes on multiple roles, often switching accents and languages cleanly, clearly and effectively – this is true especially of Spite, who believably and often very humorously toggles between the straight-lace Nathan and the dynamic and eccentric Fassah.   

More importantly, this particular theatrical device – the playing of different roles by one actor – does not become a focal point in its own right.  We can admire the actors’ ability to do so, but our attention is not distracted from the tale or the world of the play while we admire that ability. 

A similar comment can be made about the very clever set design – a few key pieces of mobile bookshelf-like furniture serve multiple purposes, allowing for quick and clean changes of location.  More importantly, these changes are integrated into the action and mood of the scenes around them; as with the acting, we notice the cleverness of the set design, but our focus is not stolen by it.   

In the end, this is sharp, effective theatre that may not blow you away, but is engaging, entertaining, and can be quite touching.  It is well worth a look.


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That's the spirit

Review by Lynn Freeman 22nd Mar 2006

THE paranormal has never been sexier, with a whole host of TV shows cashing in on our fascination with what – may – lie beyond.

So there are rich pickings for a theatre company with imagination and a sense of humour – one just like SEEyD. The Brilliant Fassah is by far the funniest of the company’s growing repertoire of plays that have investigated big meaty topics from genetic engineering and immunisation to colonisation.

Fassah is a centuries old Italian spirit who takes over the body of mild mannered maths teacher, Nathan, to share his wisdom – and love – to the people of today. An initially reluctant Nathan is persuaded to cash in on the financial opportunity this provides by his more ‘spiritual’ wife and their charismatic businessman neighbour, Laurence. People flock to hear Fassah’s advice. There’s a book, national tours, media interviews, promotional videos and money – heaps of it. When Fassah abandons ship, there’s a moral dilemma for poor old Nathan.

Tim Spite is in his element as Nathan/Fassah and a few other spirit characters briefly thrown into the mix. He makes Nathan an everyman, briefly overtaken by events but at heart a good man. James Ashcroft covers an impressive spectrum of weird and wonderful characters with ease and style and Amy Tarleton is as memorable as ever as Nathan’s wife who seeks something more. The only quibble, an overly long set piece of Fassah’s clients.

Mention must be made of Sven Mezhoud’s quite brilliant set, which makes the maximum use of the space, with beds turning into shelves and tables – brilliant. The two mini beds in the motel are priceless, and add to the physical humour peppered throughout the play (the scene where Nathan and Laurence talk through their car windows is simple and all the funnier for it), and greatly appreciated by the audience.


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A spirited play with faith

Review by John Smythe 15th Mar 2006

The actors are there as we enter Circa Two. Tim Spite – or is he in character already? – is chatty and interactive while the other two, Amy Tarleton and James Ashcroft, show more interest in his antics than in their gathering audience. I mention this now because after the show I’m searching for clues as to exactly what game the SEEyD Theatre Company is playing with The Brilliant Fassah.

Sven Mezoud’s cluttered set goes on to reveal its multi-facetted ingenuity, abetted by Leo Gene Peters’ lighting and Gil Eva Craig’s sound design. Thus supported the three actors proceed to ply their craft with a pleasure that readily permeates their audience. It is part of their purpose, it seems, to visibly balance their fortune-following play on the fulcrum between obvious artifice and sublimely illusory art.

An average evening in the settled home life of Claudia (Tarleton) and Nathan (Spite), married for six years, finds her on the phone, conducting a swings and roundabouts Tarot card reading, while he reads the paper and exclaims at the share market’s downward slide. Nathan’s day job is teaching maths at Kaipuke (geddit?) High – while Claudia and their new neighbour, Laughton (Ashcroft), get acquainted. The classic triangle.

Nathan’s class on the Golden Triangle, and the way it may be subdivided through the Golden Ratio of phi (if I understand it correctly) to spiral logarithmically to vanishing point (in our perception, anyway), both sets the course for what is to come and precipitates another of Nathan’s recurring blackouts. It is the alternative therapies Claudia suggests, given conventional medication is not working, that unleashes the 2000-year-old spirit of Fassah – fluent in Italian, Mâori and German – in the monolingual mind, and body, of Nathan.

And so the upwardly spiralling phenomenon of Fassah – who channels messages from long-gone loved ones and can tell people more than they want the world to know about them – takes Nathan, Claudia and Laughton on the road and into a stratosphere of media-driven fame and fortune. By feeding people’s need to reclaim some sense of purpose, direction and control over their lives, Fassah’s stock-in-trade becomes ‘Fassah Nating Futures’.

But when the spirit departs as unexpectedly as he arrived, Nate is obliged to maintain the façade to keep the so-called faith. His loss of face is almost literal at the hands of an angry customer. The question of good faith in business partnerships is also sorely tested. The Golden Ratio spirals downward; the Golden Triangle collapses … But there is an upswing in Nathan and Claudia’s return to earth and reality. And the illusory journey the spirited actors and designers have taken us on has been fun.

Information is conveyed and themes are explored with great ingenuity as all three actors play multiple roles with the deft skill of quick-sketch artists bringing life to the over-arching plot. Nate’s clapped-out sedan v Laughton’s throbbing SUV, the mystique of mastering golf, the bedroom scenes, the family roots, the one-on-one sessions with a vast array of questing customers, the big audience show, the outside rallies (video sequences by James McCarthy), the book signing, the role fear plays in our lives, the business meeting, the juxtaposing of acceptable and unacceptable spiritual beliefs …

And yet, as richly textured and fluidly rendered as it is, The Brilliant Fassah leaves key questions unanswered. Must we really believe the spirit of Fassah truly possessed Nathan, without a hint of rational explanation? Isn’t there more to understand about Laughton’s role in the scheme of things? While the play provokes us to consider our own positions on the see-saws of spiritualism and scepticism, faith and fraud, it leaves us hanging on the question of willing suspension of disbelief.

Maybe it can be justified as an allegory for any brief flame of fame and success – now you have it, now you don’t – or the make-believe game of play-making itself (as hinted at by the way it starts). Perhaps the need we feel for something more is, in the end, the point (the vanishing point of the Golden Ratio). Or maybe it really would benefit from the hard questions being confronted, played with and wrought into answers by a non-performing playwright, at the behest, even, of a rigorous director who is also not preoccupied with performing. Now there’s a radical thought.

Meanwhile one thing, at least, is certain. For ninety minutes The Brilliant Fassah delivers delight. And whether we then feel moved to explore it more is, I imagine, a question of faith.


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Channel for laughs, moral dilemma

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 14th Mar 2006

SEEyD Theatre Company is at it again, but this time in a much lighter vein than the dramatic moral probing into immunisation, genetic modification and the like that it has explored so successfully in the past.

This time the subject matter takes us to an area of life where science, spirituality, the afterlife and the downright weird meet in tarot cards, clairvoyance, psychic powers and channelling.
Though it is very funny and bubbles along with some good one-liners, a believable plot and plenty of action, the psychic subjects or the paranormal are not sent up.

Again, as in SEEyD’s previous shows, a moral dilemma is raised that gives The Brilliant Fassah some bite, even though the hero is conveniently let off the hook at the end.
Nathan, a maths teacher, is the hero who is married to Claudia who earns extra money as a telephone tarot reader.

One night Nathan suddenly becomes a channel for Fassah, a charming, articulate, multilingual man who has been dead for 2000 years. This channelling occurs when Nathan and Claudia are entertaining their new, smooth, wealthy neighbour, Laughton, who immediately sees that Nathan is genuine and that money could be made from his newly acquired gift. A national tour follows, as well as a bestseller and before long there is $20,000 in the bank.

James Ashcroft and Amy Tarleton play, respectively, the slick neighbour and Claudia as well as numerous instantly established comic cameos of stereotypical characters with great elan.
Tim Spite is in grand form as Nathan, particularly when Nathan is suddenly taken over by Fassah and he rattles off a long speech in a number of languages, and when he interacts with the audience. He also plays several characters, including, all too briefly, Nathan’s mother-in-law in a telephone booth.

A word of praise too for Sven Mezhoud’s set design which looks like an untidy junk shop to start with but it soon becomes clear that it has all been thought out with great care as cupboards become beds, phone booths blackboards and tables.


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