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Review: Prairie Flower at Upstairs at the Gatehouse

An engaging one-man show written and performed by Ryan Simms about his East End gangster father

28 September, 2018 — By Jack Courtney O’Connor

Ryan Simms in Prairie Flower

Prairie Flower is a curious title – and a curious piece – written by actor Ryan Simms, a graduate of the Poor School, and directed by Paul Caister (founder of the Poor School), who developed the script with Ryan.

Basically a one-man show set in 2005, Prairie stars Simms as his own father, “Longdog” Danny O’Halloran, a career villain and East End gangster, a contemporary of the Great Train Robbers, a personal friend of Charlie Wilson and a mate of “Mad” Frankie Fraser.

However, unlike the infamous Kray twins, he was not part of the glamorous gangster set. He robbed banks for a living and kept out of the limelight.

Prairie Flower is what “Longdog” called his wife, Ryan’s mother, fashioned after his love of western pictures. Indeed, he refers to Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns including The Good, The Bad and the Ugly – which could easily be the title of this piece.

In two hours we learn of Ryan’s old man’s life of – sometimes violent – crime. Although he was a family man and loved his wife, we discover he also had a dark side and the last thing he wanted was his son to become was a poncey actor.

The secret of storytelling is to engage your audience, and, unlike in the States, it’s not always about winning. As any Irish storyteller worth their Guinness will tell you, it’s the way you tell ’em. And Ryan with his director have developed a style that not only engages the audience but also takes them on a journey to yesterday.

I was saddened to read that the Poor School has closed – especially since we seem to be going back to the pre-Angry Young Man days of “posh” actors. Or perhaps that’s just a fashion.


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