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Robin Hiley - The Mold That Changed The World Interview

Fresh from a sell-out run at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Charades Theatre Company are bringing their new musical The Mold That Changed The World with performances at the Science Gallery at Pullman Yards in Atlanta from 1st to 6th November.

The musical chronicles one of the greatest advances in medical science as Sir Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin.

Ahead of the run in Atlanta, I spoke to composer Robin Hiley to discover more about the show.
Robin began by explaining "The Mold That Changed The World is a musical theatre piece that stars a cast of 12 West End actors who perform alongside a local chorus that is recruited from science and healthcare settings in the cities we've toured to. We take our professional cast with us and recruit locally. The reason we use scientists and healthcare professionals is their intimate understanding of the public health message that the show is seeking to shine a light upon. This being antimicrobial resistance."

"The show itself focuses on the life, work, and legacy of the famous Scottish scientist sir Alexander Fleming who discovered Penicillin, the first antibiotic. The show remembers Fleming's life and shines a light upon what we as humans have subsequently done with this incredible gift, the incredible life-saving medicine."

Robin is the CEO of the Charades Theatre Company. He told me "we are a Scottish charity based in Edinburgh. We create work for the professional stage and also for community and education settings." 

This inspiration for The Mold That Changed The World came when "I was approached by an infectious diseases doctor called Megan Perry back in 2016. This proposal of creating a show about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. I was a little skeptical at first but once I scratched the surface not only about what global health is but about how astonishing it is how we as a global community are wasting this very very precious life-saving medicine. I also found out about the life of Fleming, and I gravitated toward him as the person who discovered Penicillin in the first place. I found out he has an incredible story of his life. From volunteering for 14 years in his formative years as a soldier to then serving as a medic in the first World War based in the north of France where he saw some very harrowing things. There we worked with his fellow colleagues at St Mary's Hospital to try to find cures for these terrible bacterial infections that the first World War was responsible for in the trenches."

For a project that Robin tells me "has been 6 years in the making so far" he says that it's hard to list all the research that he's done in that time. He does tell me that the work with Megan Perry was important to shape things. He also tells me he "travelled on a diplomatic mission with the UK's envoy for antimicrobial resistance, Dame Sally Davies. Sitting around the top tables with some of the biggest Pharmaceutical executives in the world and public health figures who are shaping what we are doing to combat this huge global issue." 

"In terms of researching Fleming. I had the pleasure of meeting the curator of the St Mary's Hospital Fleming Museum where you can actually go and see the lab where Fleming made his discovery. I read lots of different biographical accounts of Fleming's life. The research has been extensive."

How was it performing the show about one of Scotland's most famous icons at one of the world's most iconic festivals, The Edinburgh Fringe? Robin says "It's a hotbed for the creation of new work across all manner of genres. To have had sell-out runs at the Fringe in two years has been very special. Particularly this more recent sell-out having come back from the depths of COVID lockdowns and managing to get the project back on its feet into a developed version that is now feature-length ready to tour like we are at the moment. Touring the show personally has been a very very rewarding and exciting time but great to have started at the Edinburgh Fringe and now to be a Scottish company that is having international success telling the story of a famous Scot."

Robin Hiley
Living through a COVID pandemic like we all have is clear just how important medicines can be but what does Robin think the show says to a modern audience. He tells me "strangely COVID has done this project good because prior to COVID I think there wasn't the appetite for the types of organisations that we want to engage in order to support and grow the show going forwards. There wasn't necessarily the recognition that public health issues need to be communicated in new ways and I think since COVID has taught all of society that we all need to talk about these things in new ways and stats on a television screen aren't perhaps the best way to change people's minds. We have found that our audiences have been hugely receptive and almost grateful for what we are doing. Using the arts to communicate a message is an exciting thing to be doing. It's not about making the best piece of art that we can, it's about the health of humanity, the health of the person who lives down the road and about social responsibility. A lot of our audiences have recongised that and it's giving additional meaning to the work that we are doing."

As our chat wraps up Robin says people should come and see the show because "Fleming's story is an incredibly inspiring one and antimicrobial resistance is a problem that is not going away and it's a problem that people do not understand the extent of. So if you want a little introduction to it in a fun and exciting way, and to hear some good tunes along the way. That is why you should come and see the show"

The Mold That Changed The World plays at the Science Gallery at Pullman Yards in Atlanta from 1st to 6th November 2022. You can find out more about the show and book tickets from You can find out more about composer Robin Hiley from his website

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