When Belfast man Michael Patrick found himself with a swollen testicle as a teenager, he did what any embarrassed 15-year-old schoolboy would do and initially kept it as a secret.
ittle did he know then, but 15 years on he would be sharing his experiences in a hit play – My Left Nut – which was then made into a BBC Three TV series and broadcast earlier this year.
It’s been a whirlwind success story for Michael and co-writer friend Oisin Kearney, who wrote it in 2017 and took it to the Edinburgh festival a year later.
“It was when we were there that we got the attention of the BBC,” says Michael. “We pitched them the idea of adapting it for screen and they loved it, it was crazy how fast everything happened.
“That was the first thing I’d ever written. I wrote it with my director, Oisin Kearney, and neither of us had any experience in television whatsoever.
“The more I speak to people, the more they’re like, ‘Yeah, most TV shows take years and years to get off the ground’. And it’s all happened so quickly.
“I think we’re very lucky that they were looking for more Irish and Northern Irish stories, you know. I think of the success of Derry Girls as well, where we don’t really have anything that represents a modern Northern Ireland.
“And also at the same time, it’s a comedy, you know, it is very funny, it appeals to the young people.
“But it also has a real message and a real heart, the message to people to get yourself checked and support each other. So I think it was really a perfect storm and BBC Three sort of jumped on it.”
Michael’s original show was set for a return to Edinburgh during the summer but Covid put paid to that.
But a creative attempt to get live entertainment back on the road takes place in Belfast this weekend with the unique Lough Down Drive-in Arts Festival which will see Michael perform his one-man show to an audience in their cars.
It’s a first of its kind for the performers and punters alike as a creative approach to holding events during the Covid pandemic with gig-goers tuning in to a dedicated FM radio channel to enjoy the show.
He says: “I’m very excited, it’s going to be a bit odd. It’s the first time I’ve ever done anything like this.
“So the way it’s going to work is, you’re going to drive in, it’s going to be a big stage at the front, I’ll be on that stage wearing a microphone, so everything I say will go through the microphone and you can tune your car radio into a certain frequency.
“So you can hear me coming over your car radio and then there will be a big screen behind me and there’ll be a couple of cameras on me.
“So although you will be able to see me on the stage, it’ll also be broadcast onto the giant screen behind me like I’m Bono at a U2 concert so it’s going to be a bit mad!
“It’s going to be very strange, I don’t know what to expect. My mates are comedians and have done similar shows, and they’ve said that beeping the horns indicates laughter. I don’t know if that will happen or not but it will certainly be strange.
“This is a bit of a lifeline to creative people to get their profession going again, but also for people to watch, you know?
“People haven’t seen live performance in six, seven, eight months.
“It’s nice to find some way of doing it – it might not be perfect, it might not be as good as sitting in a big theatre with your gin and tonic, but it is something and you’ve got to try to be creative.” The play is also something close to Michael’s heart because he wanted to write something about his father – also called Michael – who died from motor neurone disease when he was just eight.
“While it’s an upbeat show with lots of comedy, it does get brought right down to some of the sadder moments like my dad’s death,” says Michael.
“So it’s a real big high energy show that will make you laugh but will also make you cry when we get to some of the sadder bits.
“My background is I went to university in Cambridge to study physics and I was going to become a scientist or work in finance or something like that.
“I’d always done acting and speech and drama as a kid and all that, but I never really thought of it seriously as a career. It was only when I went to uni I thought, ‘Actually I’m going to make a go of this’ and then I trained at drama school in London.”
His big break in both acting and writing came when he and his friend Oisin wrote My Left Nut and entered it into a competition called Show In A Bag, which they won and got to perform it at the Dublin Fringe – and the rest is history.
Michael says: “I’d always wanted to write something about my dad. It’s something that sort of overshadowed my whole life, he passed away when I was eight years old and I’d always wanted to write something about that.
“And then the ball story, it was a funny story I used to tell the parties: ‘Remember the time I had this giant ball, it was huge, it was bigger than a can of coke’.
“And then my mate Oisin Kearney, I approached him about the competition and he said, ‘Write your ball story’ and I was like, ‘Oisin, no one’s gonna want to hear me talk about my balls’ – and now it’s a TV show and a play and everything.”
Since then two other positives have resulted from his success, the first being that it has highlighted men’s health and seen more people get checked out.
“The play is about me thinking I’ve got testicular cancer and panicking but not telling anyone for years and then it turns out it was a collection of fluid, and I was absolutely fine,” Michael says.
“But it is about the panic and stress that it might be cancer and having to go to the doctor because I don’t know what it is and, of course, I saw my dad go through this horrible illness.
“So if I admit to myself that it was something wrong with my testicles I might go through the same thing, not the exact same thing but I might go through something similar.
“So I’m just going to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist and then I don’t have to think about it.
“And also about the fact that he’s not there and I’ve just got my mum and what teenage boy wants to talk to their mum about their balls?
“One thing that’s actually been really nice about doing the play is the number of men who have come up to me after the show and been like, ‘Do you know, actually I had something and I didn’t tell anyone for years’ or ‘I’ve got something wrong with me and I wasn’t gonna get it checked out and now I’m gonna get it checked out’.
“I mean, that’s great to be able to start those conversations. Personally, two of my mates from school have gone to the doctor to get stuff checked out.
“They’ve been absolutely fine but they were like, ‘If it wasn’t for your play I probably would have left it a couple of months or even longer’.”
Michael says that his show is recommended for an aged 12-plus audience because of its “school boy humour and Inbetweeners style stuff” but also described it as something of a “love story and a thank-you” to his mum Pauline, who he said is “really proud” of his play.
He was also delighted that the TV show – in which he and Oisin got little cameos – was filmed in Belfast, with a local crew and the “absolutely brilliant” Nathan Quinn-O’Rawe playing him in his debut role.
The other positive from his success is that both he and Oisin are now hot property and have been commissioned to write a play and a radio programme as Northern Ireland marks 100 years in existence next year.
He says: “We’ve been commissioned by Prime Cut Productions to write a play to mark 100 years of the border next year so we’ve been doing a lot of research recently.
“We’ve been travelling the whole length of the border interviewing people and seeing the place and we’ll also be writing a radio show as well to commemorate 100 years of the border.
“And we’ve got a couple of TV sort of pilots that we’re writing, I don’t know if any of them are going to get picked up, but touch wood on them too.
“We like where comedy meets serious, if you can make people laugh and then make them cry in the same job, that’s perfect for us, that’s the mark we like to make.
“We’ve been searching for stories and we’ve read hundreds of history books but we’ve also been going around and we’ve interviewed 80 different people who currently live on the border.
“Some of the stories are telling of heartbreak and obviously there was a lot of tragedy around certain parts of the border but some are also hilarious, like stories of smuggling and various ways you get one over on the various government bodies.
“The idea is that there’s been a lot said about the border but what is it actually like to live there and who are the people who live there and what are they like, that’s kind of what we’re hoping to capture.”
Lough Down Drive-in Arts Festival runs this Saturday and Sunday. Tickets, costing from £10-£20 plus booking fee per vehicle, are on sale now at www.loughdown.eventbrite.co.uk. Visit www.maywe.co.uk for more information