Sheer art attack

Pharmacologist Robin Plevin's 'health entertainment' uses drama and humour to spread the word on coronary disease

October 23, 2008

A pharmacology professor's interest in amateur dramatics has inspired him to write a play about the science behind heart disease, entitled The Angina Monologues.

Robin Plevin, of the University of Strathclyde, describes the 50-minute series of sketches as "health entertainment". The skits include two mice discussing whether genes or lifestyle make you fat; an obese woman who is having problems conceiving; and a man who has had a heart attack but refuses to quit smoking.

There is a running gag about a pharmaceutical company trying to peddle its new product, MagiPill. The play's message is that there is no magic pill.

"We have to use existing therapies, exercise and eating properly," said Professor Plevin, whose research focuses on vascular disease. He wrote the script with input from medical experts, scientists and health psychologists. "It's not quite Beckett, but it's not designed to be. Studies show that people make changes the more they know about something, so this is about how to entertain and inform them."

The Scottish Government has given the project £20,000 under its science engagement scheme, with matching funding from the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences.

The performance ends with a singalong to the tune of The Proclaimers' anthem, 500 Miles. Sample lyrics include:

If you're a fat man, your cholesterol's gonnae rise, with atherosclerosis next for you.

If you're a fat man, then your insulin's all wrong, and it's diabetes coming after you.

If you're a fat girl, then you'll get the same as him and some extra co-morbidities for free.

If you're a fat girl, then it's trouble down below, and complications in your preg-nan-cy.

The chorus explains that eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, avoiding sweets, and walking or jogging for a mile a day increases your life expectancy by ten years.

Coronary heart disease remains one of Scotland's biggest killers. There are parts of the East End of Glasgow where life expectancy has dropped to below 60. Professor Plevin aims to tour the city's community centres with free performances during National Science Week in March.

"We're keen to find venues in other parts of the country and are intending to make a video of the play," he said.

The play is performed by the Focus Theatre Company, directed by Susan Triesman, director of the university's drama centre. Health professionals will be on hand, and there are plans for a questionnaire-based study of how people assess their health before and after the performance.

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