Belfast actor turns teenage turmoil into play on masculinity

My Left Nut’s lesson? ‘Young males need to talk, to open up – don’t keep things bottled up’

Michael Patrick completed his Cambridge degree in physics and material science but was more interested in acting.

Michael Patrick completed his Cambridge degree in physics and material science but was more interested in acting.

 

A young Belfast actor has crafted a comedy play out of the turmoil and confuon of adolescence and the trauma of losing a father to motor neurone disease.

My Left Nut, a 50-minute one-man show to be performed at the Dublin Fringe Festival, tells the “true story of a Belfast boy growing up with no father to guide him through, and a giant ball to weigh him down”, according to its co-author Michael Patrick.

The drama’s title is a play on Christy’s Brown’s My Left Foot and was prompted by the experience of 26-year-old Michael Patrick and the self-imposed psychological torture he endured for a three-year period during his difficult teens.

It was his crippling embarrassment over his growing left testicle that caused him three years of physical discomfort and mental torment, he explains.

Patrick, who kicked off his career with the Cambridge University Footlights, says the play he wrote with Oisin Kearney from Warrenpoint in Co Down has one central message for adolescents: “You’ve got to talk.”

“It started when I was 14-15. My testicle just got bigger and bigger. I was too embarrassed to tell my Mum or anyone else about it,” explains Patrick, whose real name is Michael Campbell. He has taken on the stage name of Michael Patrick because there is another actor called Michael Campbell.

“I was so paranoid. For some reason I had the growth of my left ball all wrapped up in sexuality and masturbation and other issues. In the meantime, between the ages of 14 and 17, my testicle just got bigger and bigger so that eventually people started noticing it through my trousers,” he adds.

When his classmates saw the bulge they thought he was suffering from a different condition entirely, he remembers.

‘Years of panic’

“I went through three years of panic and worry and embarrassment. I was trying to hide it in PE class, and all that sort of thing. I was having cold showers and hot baths and putting all sorts of cream on the testicle, even dipping it in Lourdes holy water, to try to deal with the swelling until eventually I realised I needed to tell someone,” says Patrick.

That someone was his local doctor in south Belfast who explained to him that what he had was a not uncommon hydrocele, which is a sac filled with fluid that forms around a testicle.

Male babies can be born with the condition while, as in Patrick’s case, they can also be formed in later life. Hydroceles generally don’t threaten the testicles.

“I went to surgery, the doctor drained it and that was the end of it,” says Patrick, adding that sufficient fluid was drawn from the testicle to fill a regular can of Coca Cola.

He subsequently learned that two cousins, a university friend and other acquaintances had suffered hydroceles as well.

The half-comical, half-serious way he explains his teenage predicament indicates that here is great comedy material to be mined, notwithstanding that it also addresses the serious subjects of male health and grief.

My Left Nut deals with how in the summer of 1998 when most people were celebrating the Belfast Agreement, he lost his father, also Michael, to motor neurone disease. He was 47.

Facing sorrow

Patrick believes his difficulty in facing up to his sorrow is linked to his teenage reticence to tell anyone about his growing testicle. He explains, “A lot of the play is me coming to terms with illness and my father’s death. I did not accept it when I was younger. I learned writing the play just how much I did not open up about my father, about how much I hid away in computer games, and things like that. It was only through the problem with my testicle that I started talking about him.”

Patrick completed his Cambridge degree in physics and material science. But he seemed more interested in the Cambridge Footlights that produced the likes of John Cleese, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry and in other university drama groups than the science lab.

“I realised I wanted to be an actor, so when I graduated I went to drama school as a post-grad student,” he adds.

He has appeared in several productions including at the Edinburgh Fringe and has also performed the one-man Marie Jones play, A Night in November. The benefit of his physics degree is that when he is “resting” he can tutor in physics, maths, chemistry and biology.

The show runs at Bewley’s Café at Powerscourt, Powerscourt Townhouse, Dublin 2, as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival, beginning on September 12th with a 1pm lunchtimeperformance.

“If My Left Nut has a central message for young males it’s to talk, to open up, don’t keep things bottled up,” says Patrick. “Don’t be embarrassed, don’t be carrying too much on your shoulders.

“Don’t have a preconceived notion about what masculinity is. Find your own definition, don’t think you have live up to certain stereotypes.”