Friday 23 August 2019

The new, improved Mannix Flynn and the X factor

Victoria Mary Clarke

Victoria hears about the odyssey of an outsider and a hell-raiser

GERARD Mannix Flynn, actor and writer, has been an outsider, a rebel, for most of his life. At the age of 10, following a history of truancy and petty crimes, he stole a bicycle and was sent to St Joseph's Industrial College in Letterfrack, a correctional institute for children. By the time he started work in the theatre, he had spent time in Marlborough House Detention Centre and St Patrick's Institution, Mountjoy.

On his release, he quickly estab lished a reputation as an actor, working with Jim and Peter Sheridan at Dublin's Project Theatre and as one of Ireland's most prom ising writers. But he also established a reputation as an angry, self-destructive hell-raising drinker, which he now says was de served. Having been abandoned into the care of a non-caring, abusive, neglectful guardian the State he abandoned, neglected and abused himself.

And now, at the age of 45, he is taking the State to court, on stage at Dublin's Temple Bar Music Centre. The Dublin Theatre Festival is currently taking place, but James X, the new play which Mannix is performing and producing, is not part of the festival. It is something of a struggle for Mannix to work entirely outside of the system, without the benefit of financial support from the Arts Council or, as he puts it, "the other agents of the State". But this is how he prefers it. He doesn't trust the State or any of its agents.

The play, which took 15 years to write, is about a man, James X, who is the same age as Mannix and who also comes from an inner-city council flat. He first enters the State system at the age of three when he is deemed by State psychi atrists to be a danger to those around him. Mannix admits he based the play on his own experiences. In return for such dedication, for such courage in being willing to recreate his own pain and suffering as art, what does he hope to achieve?

"A certain measure of truth. Pre sented entertainingly," he tells me. "It's a funny show. In the same way that the Jews have a terrific sense of humour about the Holocaust, it's a way of dealing with awful things that happened to you. I don't want anybody walking out of my venue feeling down. My task was to redeem James X and pre sent him to the public when they need him most."

This man is quite unrecognisa ble from the Mannix Flynn I met at a party five or six years ago. That Mannix Flynn was full of drunken banter and was entertaining a room full of people with his perfor mance. This one is quiet, serious, controlled and seems smaller and much older than the last one. Kin der, too, and more human.

Alcoholics, Mannix says, either die slowly and tortuously, or they save themselves. Having been abandoned to the State himself, he says, he in turn abandoned himself to toxic substances, namely alcohol, but he has saved himself by giving up drinking and he has been a teetotaller for over three years now, living quietly in the countryside in Kerry and getting healthy. He doesn't want to talk about drinking, apart from saying that while he was doing it, he was often capable of turning into a different person, somebody that he didn't recognise. And once he touched a drink, he says, he wasn't able to stop drinking until he collapsed. The drink controlled him. And he is glad that he no longer drinks, but he is taking it one day at a time.

We talk about the play. James X is taking a civil action against the State at the beginning of the play.

"And it's not a case about com pensation, it's a case about justice. There is a file on James X which he has obtained the file is written by the State, by psychiatrists, psy choanalysts, psychotherapists, governors etc, detailing assess ments of this person from the age of three. The file is a shameless doc ument, a damning indictment of the State and its agents. As he reads the file, he begins to doubt the whole process, because he realises that throughout his life all the State and its agents have done is abandon him. Like you abandon an old pair of shoes. They are not willing to help him, so they send him off to the industrial school system, which in turn abandons him to the hospital system."

The file states that James, at three, is a troublemaker, a truant. A danger to society. Is it possible for a three-year-old to actually be dangerous?

"In this instance, the State deems so. I think it's ridiculous we are always going to be pulling each other's hair and stamping on each other's toes, that's nature. But that child could have gone on to be fine at four.

"As a three-year-old child, James X was not subject to abuse in his family home, he was subject to poverty. His crimes stealing a bar of chocolate and non-attendance at school meant that he was recommended for psychiatric care, but because the hospital didn't have such a facility for children, he was sent to Letterfrack for two years. Where there were no psychiatric facilities.

"And he reads this file and he begins to realise that the very people he is seeking justice from are going to turn him over. So he has to go back and rescue his own life."

How does he do that?

"It's a process. There comes a point in your life when you have to let go of the injustices that hap pened to you. If James X walks into the courthouse and expects the system to deliver him justice, he is abandoning himself into a struc ture that according to his file has never given him any reason to trust them. Here he is, about to trust his greatest abuser. Why would he do that? So he has to go back and re solve the issues."

But how do you resolve this stuff?

"You've got to come and see the play, that's how!"

'James X' is at the Temple Bar Music Centre until October 12, (01) 670-9202

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