Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Sunday, 8 March 2009

The dramatic approach to heart health

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Two mice in the Angina Monologues
Mice discussing the genetics of obesity.....

When pharmacologist Robin Plevin wanted to get a healthy living message across to the public he decided the stage was mightier than the science lab.

Every 15 minutes in Scotland someone has a heart attack

Some 10% of Scots are believed to be living with some form of heart or circulatory disease and the country has some of the worst heart health in the UK.

So when Robin Plevin was looking for a focus for his plays he did not find it hard to decide on the subject matter - heart health.

As part of their grant applications, scientists like Robin are encouraged to get their work out to as wide an audience as possible.

Their aim is to demystify science and engage the general public.

Epilogue: To the tune of 500 miles- by the Proclaimers

If you're a fat man, your cholesterol's gonnae rise, with athero-sclerosis 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 smoker, and you're partial to a fag, then it's possibly the worst thing you could do,

If you're a smoker, and the Big C doesnae get you, then a heart attack is second prize for you.


But if you could eat your five a day

And walk or jog a mile or more

And from sweet stuff could you stay away

You live an extra 10 years more

You'd be thinner, you'd be thinner, you'd be thinner, you'd be thinner

You'd be a bloke who doesnae need a bra.

Eat less dinner, eat less dinner, eat less dinner, eat less dinner.

You'd get it up without needing Vi-ag-ra

Robin decided to take this one step further with a series of sketches, monologues and dialogues.

"Originally I was trying to do something that would reflect the need to interact with the lay person," said Robin, professor of pharmacology, at the University of Strathclyde.

"When you get a research grant you are really obliged to communicate your work. So rather than do it piecemeal I thought I would do something a bit more challenging.

"I have always had an interest in drama and the area of cardiovascular health is an area that is very important.

"I do some work in this area but at a very esoteric level looking at cells and how they function.

"So it seemed sensible to do something about cardiovascular health not directly reflecting my speciality, but at a wider level."

Robin hopes that the Angina Monologues, which took six months to write, will help target some of the harder to reach groups of the public and encourage them to make health changes.

"There have been a few studies showing that the more you know about a topic the more likely you are to be involved in behaviour change," he said.

Entertainment is key

"It really is hoped to raise issues about heart health, but not in a patronising, didactic lecturing way, but through a series of somewhat entertaining sketches.

Robin Plevin

There is also a magic super pill theme - it can cure everything, heart disease and obesity, and that is being pedalled by a drug company and turns out to not be as good as it might be
Robin Plevin
"I call this health entertainment. We can't split the atom over night but hopefully people will have an entertaining afternoon/evening and come away thinking about things."

Andy Carver, prevention and care adviser for British Heart Foundation Scotland, said he hoped the monologues would help engage and educate.

"Heart and circulatory disease is Scotland's biggest killer, and many of these deaths are preventable through lifestyle changes.

"We welcome any new initiative that aims to raise awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease," he said.

"This is an interesting and thought-provoking drama project, which should certainly encourage audiences to think more about their own heart health."

Tackling real health

The drama takes the form of monologues or dialogues with some narration and raises issues of cardio vascular health and drug treatments.

"We go through the journey of Mary who is an obese women struggling to get pregnant," said Robin.

"She goes through that journey taking drugs to try and help her high blood pressure, but eventually she comes through the other side hoping to change her lifestyle.

"Interspersed with that is an obese mouse and a thin mouse who argue about whether genes make you fat.

"And a smoker who has already had a heart attack contemplating whether he will give up smoking.

"There is also a magic super pill theme - it can cure everything, heart disease and obesity, and that is being pedalled by a drug company and turns out to not be as good as it might be."

Robin's play, which is currently on a two-week tour in Glasgow, is also being made into a DVD for wider dissemination.

• The Angina Monologues will be on at the Maryhill Community Central Halls, Monday 9 March, 1400; Drumchapel Community Centre, Wednesday 11 March, 1930 and Pearce Institute, Govan, Friday 13 March, 1400

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