BULLIED – Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin

Reviewer: Emma Devlin

Writer: Michael J. Harnett

Director: Vinnie McCabe

The cosy stage upstairs in Bewley’s Café Theatre is convincingly transformed into an East Wall living room this month, with the crocheted throw, mustard couch, and old paintings that you’d expect to find in any house belonging to a person in their seventies, complete with indoor crystal ashtray (props courtesy of Wilde Vintage Company Dublin). This living room is the scene for BULLIED; a story centred around the relationship between a grandfather and granddaughter as they navigate the issues facing them. Vinnie McCabe and Michael J. Harnett are the founding members of Dublin Touring Theatre, who are behind this production, with Harnett writing the piece and McCabe starring and directing.

Harnett has written a heart-warming little vignette in BULLIED that explores the importance of intergenerational relationships and how they can help both the young and the old to overcome problems. Grandad (McCabe) is recently widowed and struggling with the loneliness of losing a partner and living by himself in a world that is increasingly automated and computerised, and Anna, played by Shauna Brennan, is a transition year student whose parents are having relationship problems and who is being bullied in her new school. Grandad fumbles through phone calls with machine recordings and customer service staff who can’t seem to stray from their script to help him; the writing and performance are light-hearted and elicit a good few laughs, but lurking beneath is the fact that this is the grim reality for many people who grew up being able to speak to people face to face to resolve an issue. Anna is glued to her phone and the incessant messages and online posts that follow her home from school in a world where school bullying is now inescapable regardless of physical location.

Though the acting from both is solid – McCabe is convincingly and comically curmudgeonly in the role and Brennan embodies surly teenage angst to a tee, it’s the relationship between them that is the highlight of the piece. One can’t help but feel that without the intervention and persistence of her grandfather, Anna wouldn’t have an adult to share her reality with; speaking to the particular role that an elderly relative or adult can play in a young person’s life, one that is very different to that of a parent. It’s a very sweet watch that strays only marginally into the world of after school special à la East Wall and is recommended for the whole family.

Runs Until 3rd February 2024.

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