Belfast actor's new play is helping more people talk about a big issue for men
Michael Patrick, who grew up without his father, is using a biographical tale laced with laughs to encourage other young males to open up
This is one man’s story about an abnormally large left testicle and telling no one about it. Set in Belfast in the early 2000s, My Left Nut documents the early adolescence of Michael Patrick who, after the death of his father at the age of eight, struggles with an enlarged ball for three years without telling a soul.
Interwoven with humour while commenting on what it means to be masculine, the play has been received magnificently across Ireland. People are talking balls and it’s something Patrick says he should have done a long time ago.
'I didn’t tell anyone about the lump on my testicle until I was 17,' he says. 'I had three full years of this lump growing bigger and bigger and bigger and me not telling anyone about it.
'Your body is changing at that age and I was thinking maybe this is normal. I didn’t get the best sex education in school, you know, I had Biology and stuff but I was panicked. I thought it was something I was doing or something I wasn’t doing and so I didn’t want to tell my mum in case it was something I was doing. I was embarrassed by it.
'I mean, I come from a very loving family, my mum’s brilliant, but I still didn’t want to speak to her about it.'
Patrick’s father died from motor neurone disease when the actor was just eight. This play is very much about dealing with feelings. Feelings of devastation and loss and not being able to talk about 'young men’s' problems and the vulnerability that comes with it.
However, when he moved to England to study at one of the country’s most prestigious universities, Patrick was able to tackle (pardon the pun) them head on. This is also where he met the other half of his Northern Ireland-based theatre company, Pan Narrans.
'I originally studied Physics and trained as an actor at Mountview in London before coming back to Belfast and started up a theatre company with my good friend Oisin Kearney.
'We were both at Cambridge and ran the Irish society as well as student theatre and for a long time we made theatre. He would direct, and I would act but it would always be existing scripts, we’d never really write things.
'Then I heard about this programme called Show in a Bag which is run by Fishamble, the Dublin Fringe and the Irish Theatre Institute and I’d heard about it from friends before and thought maybe we should have a go at this and try to write something together.
'I had a few ideas and they were all really bad but I met up with Oisin, we had a few pints and just started telling him about the time I had this giant testicle.
Perhaps not the first topic of conversation that would usually come up over a cold one. But this is the whole point of this play.
Patrick continues: 'He told me to write that play and I was like, "Oisin, I’m not writing a play about my testicle." He said "No you should write it." '
And that was it really. A big idea about a big testicle blossomed into a performance that won a gong at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
A tale of masculinity and the trappings of its accepted norms paralleled alongside dealing with a bereavement. It sounds like a lot, but critics have boasted about the beauty of this play and how Patrick deals with the issues expertly.
'I’ve always wanted to write something about my dad passing away,' he says.
'He passed away when I was eight-years-old. I thought we could combine a few ideas and talk about me growing up without a father which led me to not speaking to anyone about my giant testicle for years.'
The pitch was accepted, and Patrick and Kearney were accepted onto the programme which has opened up many stage doors for the boys. The play has toured in venues up and down the country and makes its way to The MAC this weekend for a week-long stint.
'What we’ve found lovely is that doing shows around the place, the number of men that have come up after the show and said, "Do you know what, I had something similar and I didn’t tell anyone about it." A good friend from university came to a show and he actually had a lump on his testicle and hadn’t got it checked out and said that he now would.
'We approach it with humour; it is a silly play about balls and w**king and it gets people laughing and people then realise and say well maybe we should talk about it. We’re not preaching to anybody, it’s very much a personal story, but it’s nice to have that aspect to it.'