By Marjorie Brennan
Sometimes when we frantically search for inspiration, it turns out the best ideas are right under our nose, or in actor Michael Patrick's case, in his trousers.
When Patrick and his friend, filmmaker Oisín Kearney, were looking to collaborate on a play together, they initially drew a blank when it came to ideas.
“I had all these stupid ideas about alien abductions and a play about sandwiches,” says Patrick.
“Then we had a few pints and I began telling the story about the time I had a giant testicle as a teenager. I tell that story all the time when I’m drunk, I think it’s very funny. Oisín suggested we use that story and I said ‘I’m not going to tell everyone about my balls’.”
But Patrick was eventually persuaded, their application was successful and the one-man show My Left Nut was born.
Set in Belfast in the late 1990s, it is based on Patrick’s real experience of developing hydrocele testis when he was 14, a condition which caused one of his testicles to swell.
His father had died when he was eight, and it was three years until he finally told his mother about the condition. Eventually, he had 400mls drained from his testicle (a soft drinks can holds about 330ml).
“It was only in writing the play that I realised the reason I never opened up about it was because it all tied in with my father dying,” he says.
“It is really about grief and not coming to terms with my father’s death and about my mother having to raise four kids on her own,” says Patrick.
Kearney, from Warrenpoint, Co Down, co-wrote and directs the show, now returning to Bewley’s Café Theatre after receiving rave reviews during its run at last year’s Dublin Fringe Festival.
The pair met while at university in Cambridge, where Patrick studied physics. It wasn’t long before his focus switched to drama after he became involved in the university's legendary Footlights society.
“When I told my ma that after I graduated I wasn’t going to be a physicist and I was actually going to study acting, she was so supportive.”
Similarly, while his mother was initially hesitant about Patrick writing the play, she came around eventually.
“When I read the first draft to her, she was very worried. Obviously, I was a teenage boy, and I was writing about certain things that teenage boys do… She couldn’t get past some of the cruder elements. She was saying ‘I don’t think you should be doing that on stage’. She couldn’t really see past that to what the play really is — a thank you letter to her for raising four kids on her own. But over time, she has really come around to it and has been so supportive.”
Some lovely reviews coming through for the show! Running until 7th April @bwlyscaftheatre before going on tour - full dates and venues to be announced soon.#myleftnut #testicles #theatre #malehealth #masculinity #balls pic.twitter.com/Q2zdQ74MMh— My Left Nut (@myleftnutplay) March 20, 2018
Patrick eventually told his mother about his testicle, which had swollen to the size of a Coke can, when he was 17, and thankfully, all turned out well. Fittingly, his friends later found out in quite a dramatic fashion, and a scene inspired by the revelation featured in the play.
“The climax of the play is at a house party where I tell everyone. I got very drunk and told all my friends…they still talk about it, the time I ruined my friend’s 18th by telling everyone about my testicle.”
Patrick says the feedback from audiences has been hugely gratifying and rewarding. Unsurprisingly, younger men, in particular, have been affected by the themes explored in the play. Patrick believes this is because it deals so honestly with emotions that men often find hard to express.
“We need more stories… that tell men it’s alright to be vulnerable and talk to your mates about things, you don’t need to be a big macho fella and hide everything. We did the show last week for some lads on probation up in Belfast, who are just out of prison. They’ve had very hard lives and don’t find it easy to open up. But they after seeing the show, they started talking about how similar things had happened to them.”
Patrick laughs at the suggestion he has become something of an accidental advocate.
“Yes, when all I wanted to do was tell a silly story about my balls.”
My Left Nut runs at Bewley’s CafeTheatre in Dublin until April 7 and then tours. Tickets available here.