LET’S be honest, the one subject likely to make male eyes water is cancer affecting a certain part of the anatomy... and it’s not usually a first-choice subject for a play.

And, yes, there is the odd intake of air, as theatre company Paines Plough tackles the taboo tale of testicular trouble in Growth, says lead actor Dominic Jones, who plays Tobes.

“I think what solidifies this play, and we’ve staged it twice now, is that this is a conversation that needs to be had. The more that people talk about it, the scarier it seems. Talking about testicles, lumps and growths is usually taboo,” he says.

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“There can be a fine line between being able to talk to people about this kind of thing, but the more open audiences are about this, the discussions will be better,” adds Jones, on the eve of the company making a rare visit to Middlesbrough Theatre on October 10.

Asked about where he looked for authenticity for his professional stage debut, having recently graduated from Oxford School of Drama, Jones reveals that he’s had his own alarm bell regarding a testicular growth.

“A few months before doing this play I had the same kind of experience. Obviously not as dramatic, or anything else. I think I dealt with it very differently to how my character deals with it in the play. But what was easily accessible was that dread and that cold feeling that washes over you and you get tunnel vision. That kind of thing was really helpful and I’ve used it for the play. It’s the not knowing that impacts on you,” says Jones.

The production has been written by Luke Norris, who won an Edinburgh Festival Fringe First award last year. Norris writes drama and comedy for TV and has also acted in Poldark, First Born, Skins and The Inbetweeners.

“I think the play paints a really good picture of what it’s like to go through the first stages of what could be cancer. I think the mentality is that if you don’t talk about it then it doesn’t exist. You can easily brush it under the carpet. This is about the importance of sharing your worries with the people closest to you,” says Jones.

The play was inspired by what happened to a friend of Luke Norris. “I’m not totally clear how close my character is to his friend, but knowing the play I imagine not. The events that happen are by the book, but it’s definitely been influenced by Luke’s friend.”

Tobes buries his head in the sand and pretends that he can keep going and after finding a lump doesn’t really deal with the problem. “It is also about him as a person having a lot of baggage and bottling it all up,” says Jones.

Asked if he’d have preferred his first outing on the pro stage to be a Shakespearean classic like Romeo, Jones replies: “Definitely not. I’d wanted to work with Paines Plough for quite a while and I’m really proud of what we are doing and where we’re going on tour. A lot of places don’t usually see this kind of theatre. Apart from Puppetry of the Penis, I don’t think this is a usual tour subject.”

So does Growth approach its prey with black humour? “I don’t think I’d call it black humour. What George (Perrin, the director) says is that the audience don’t always realise that the subject is funny until things start happening. The humour comes from Tobes’ desperation and incessant ‘help me, help me’ attitude. He repeats the same thing so often that it becomes hilarious and the audience can see how much in need of help he is.”

Jones recalls that the first time that he played the role, the cast were trying to be so serious about the subject that they forgot about the punchlines. “People started laughing and we suddenly realised that the best comedy comes from being serious,” he says.

Further quite intentional laughter comes from Dafydd Llyr Thomas playing characters called Jared, Joff, Julian, Justin, Jack, Jermaine and Joel, while Safiyya Ingar becomes Beth, Ellie, Lily, Lise, Bess, Billie, Liza and Issy.

“Saffiyya’s parts are all linked to the name Elizabeth, which is linked to Luke not wanting to make this subject too scary. Everyone likes to laugh and I think this is a way to break the ice. There’s also scenes where I talk directly to the audience and, although it takes some getting used to, but I personally really enjoy it. Sometimes people will make eye contact... but it does depend on the thing I’m discussing. There are a few stunned silences and a bit of delayed laughter as people catch up. Once everyone agrees that they are going to laugh, then the ball starts rolling,” says Jones without the slightest hint of a pun.

He doesn’t like to give the ending away, but is confident that the twists and turns will ensure that the audience enjoys Tobes’ route to enlightenment.

And what happened regarding Jones’ own brush with testicular cancer? “I think it’s quite personal and I’m not sure I’d like to say much more. But, fortunately, it didn’t go much further than going to the doctors and having it checked. It was fine.”

  • Growth by Paines Plough, Middlesbrough Theatre, Tuesday, October 10. Box Office: Middlesbroughtheatre.co.uk or 01642-815181