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  • Chris O'Rourke

Bullied


Áine Collier and Vinnine McCabe in <ichael J. Hartnett's Bullied. Image uncredited.

***

You could make the argument that Bullied, the latest play by Michael J. Harnett, is false advertising. Not that bullying doesn’t take place. Teenage Anna, staying with her grandfather during mid-term while her folks resolve their issues, is clearly distraught by the texts that keep appearing on her phone. But her bullying feels flimsy for being never robustly fleshed out, barely taking up a third of the whole. The other two thirds of Harnett’s script telling a richer, deeper story. About the consequences of our loss of connectedness, especially for the old. A media savvy world reducing relationships to text messages or momentary phone calls with neighbours. To barking dogs for company, solitary DART rides to be around others and to the disgrace that is the dehumanising automated phone system, denying many the clarity of speaking with another human being. Anna’s isolation on account of bullying a device that links her across the generational divide with the loneliness of her disconnected Grandfather.


As writer, Harnett displays admirable ease with conversational dialogue, even as it’s heavily steeped in romanticised reminiscences. As director, Harnett proves competent, if not compelling. Just as a knife can’t cut itself, in this instance the writer is not the best director of his own script. Still, Harnett casts superbly in Vinnie McCabe as a garrulous rare aul timer, speaking with gravelled nostalgia about the once upon a good old days. Striking a compelling chemistry with an amazing Áine Collier whose expressiveness is a lexicon of pure emotion. Together they journey towards a satisfying, if not entirely convincing conclusion. Yet Harnett as director fails to catch moments when a little more support or challenge was needed in terms of script or performance. As when Collier infrequently plays the line rather than the scene, making emotional handbrake turns that seem to come out of nowhere. Which, given the otherwise impeccable balance of her captivating performance suggests it was at the director’s behest. If it was, it was a poor call. If it wasn’t, it should have been called. In either case, Harnett the director does Harnett the writer a disservice.


Though exposition is underdeveloped, providing a weak set up for its bullying theme, Sophie Cassidy’s lights and Ophelia McCabe’s operatic sound design compensate with mood. But you almost forgive everything when it gets down to the meat and bones of contrasting the connectedness of the old with the impersonalisation of the new. Revealed in McCabe’s brilliant scene as Grandfather tries to pay his gas bill. Poised perfectly, no histrionics or exaggeration, the existential absurdity, almost Kafka-like in its frustration, is keenly recognised. If Grandad’s bully proof advice feels like a convenient fix, his relationship with his granddaughter is beautifully rendered. Less an interrogation of bullying so much as a study in intergenerational loneliness, Bullied asks how do we connect in a world where we’re connected to everything but each other? Its gentle tale of a grandfather and grandchild striving for connection being something of a little joy. With Áine Collier giving notice that’s she’s a rising star showing serious talent.


Bullied, by Michael J. Harnett, presented by Dublin Region Touring Theatre, runs at the Viking Theatre till August 19.


For more information visit The Viking Theatre

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