O’Malley plays a self styled mentor to Tom, a young and aspiring thespian whose career is going nowhere more exciting than failing a humiliating audition for a bad sausage ad.
Stuck in a rut and earning a pittance in an hilariously misconceived Dublin production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, the pair are rooted in the grim realities of a business based on illusions, and are at an all time low.
To be or not to be’, says O’Malley. ’It’s not just Hamlet’s dilemma. It’s the actors’ dilemma.’ Having no confidence in his ability, Tom is of the ’not to be’ philosophy.
One night in their dressing room, O’Malley reveals to Tom that he has been frequenting one of Dublin’s more notorious pubs, supposedly seeking inspiration for his performance as the evil Richard III. Here he has met Barreller (Michael Gambon), a gormless and fairly harmless, softcore criminal. O’Malley has learned of a debt owed by Barreller to a London gangster, the mysterious Magnani, whom Barreller has never met.
Spotting what he considers to be a foolproof swindle, O’Malley proposes that Tom masquerade as one of Magnani’s hoods and intercept the money owed by Barreller. 'Acting is not real because nothing is at stake. We’re just pretending that it is,’ declares O’Malley, proposing that this will serve as invaluable (and much needed) acting training for Tom.
Tom is appalled at the idea until a freak accident reduces his house to a pile of ash, leaving him with little choice but to rise to the challenge.
This is the point at which things start to go wrong. What should have been a simple one stop trip to easy cash turns into a spiral of cover ups which see Tom, with the help of his niece Mary having to adopt more and more characters to prevent his cover from being blown. However, the more characters Tom creates, the more his confidence grows and it soon becomes apparent that despite being an appalling stage actor, in real life he can hold his own very well. ’Acting is a craft – you have to live it,’ he explains to O’Malley, who suddenly realises that he has unwittingly unleashed Tom’s hidden talents
The situation is further complicated when Tom falls for Barreller’s beautiful daughter, Dolores, who starts to see through their dwindling plan. And if that weren’t enough, the ruthless gangster Magnani makes the trip from London to Ireland in an attempt to establish the whereabouts of her missing cash.
Appearances belie reality and as the madness gains momentum, hilarity ensues in this classic comic farce of mistaken identities.