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Bradford academic advises on Under the Bed Play


University of Bradford Social Work lecturer Philip Gilligan has provided professional academic advice to the creators of the play Under the Bed which is currently touring England. The play, from 154 Collective, addresses issues around child abuse using metaphor.

Dan Mallaghan, writer and theatre practitioner at 154 Collective contacted Philip early on in the writing, explaining that he wanted to explore issues about a child coping with child sexual abuse and its aftermath – principally through the use of fairy tales. Having met with Dan, Philip agreed to assume the key role to advise, not only on issues relating to the child’s response, such as the the need to look at the ambiguous feelings that a child may feel towards the abuser, but also the likely response from statutory agencies.

Much of the plot develops offstage and there is no direct or explicit mention of child abuse – the girl playing the central role of Alice understood that in the play her parents had fallen out and had been taken away from her. The story throws Alice into a series of adventures under her bed with monsters, much of which took place on video screen.

Philip’s input into the play as role of consultant helped the creators to link through the complexities and realities for both the child’s experience and also the role of social care. This ensured that the responses of those within the play were credible and took into account the likely actions of social care professions as a result of regulatory frameworks such as their need to know a child is safe and the notion of what is know as the threshold test. He also provided input into the discussion of how children that are experiencing trauma can use fantasy, and that in the event of Alice being provided with therapy, it could involve the use of stories.

Phillip said: “Children don’t necessarily have the words or desire to talk through what they’ve experienced, but they can work through it in a symbolic way – so the play is about remembering the reality, overcoming the reality and slaying her demons.”

Dr Phillip Gilligan is part of the team in the Division of Social Work at the University of Bradford and is a prolific publisher of his research. Central to his publications is his research into child abuse and child exploitation and children’s responses to it. Philip is a regular contributor to teaching within the Division, on the Social Work with Children with Families module of the BA and MA in Social Work degrees. Philip also specialises in research into minority communities, particularly in the context of religion and belief.

Head of the Division of Social Work Collette McAulay said: “The University of Bradford has been training social workers since 1970s and currently has over 500 students within its department. One of its distinctive features is that it engages with research which is applied directly to improving policy and practice within the sector. Research includes international collaboration with 26 other countries into children’s own perspectives on their wellbeing, LGBT health inequalities in an international perspective, and the impact of poverty on child welfare and wellbeing.”

Philip was one of the key contributors in the recent Research Excellence Framework Submission, which assesses the quality of research in Higher Education Institutions. Bradford’s Social Work submission was ranked in the top 10 of all higher education institutions nationwide.

Under the Bed was co-commissioned by ARC Stockton and Theatre in the Mill

When Alice is stolen away in the middle of the night by her mum she has no idea what is happening. Scared, confused and angry, Alice finds herself in a strange house, forbidden to leave, arguing with her mum during the day and hiding under her covers from the strange noises at night.

Told using performance, music, live animation and film, Under the Bed is a compelling new play about childhood trauma and what happens when nightmares are indistinguishable from reality.

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