“Adversity is a universal human experience that provokes a range of individual and collective emotions. It is our perspective and human qualities that determine how we deal with it.”
Composers have explored adversity and how we respond to it in their texts for centuries, today we’ll be taking an in depth look at adversity in Jane Harrison’s thought-provoking play: Rainbows End and in Stephen Daldry’s British Dramedy: Billy Elliot. In both texts, characters are shown to react to and eventually overcome adversity through perspective, individualism, determination and compassion.
Act 1 Scene 4 of Rainbows End shows the Dear family having dinner, with Papa Dear a notable absentee before Dolly’s request to go for a job is denied by Nan who fears for what Dolly, as a young Aboriginal woman will encounter. Dolly argues “I know I could do it,” to which Nan shakes her head and that’s that. Harrison cleverly uses the situation to allude to all of the opportunities that Aboriginal people like Dolly were denied with the simple head shake symbolising the lack of reasoning behind that denial.
Dolly’s individualism shines through the scene where she brings up and justifies her desire to go for the job and in doing so expresses that she, just like the rest of us has a dream. The audience relates to Dolly in this through the shared human experience of chasing your dreams and through this connection the responder becomes emotionally invested in Dolly and gains more of an insight into the hardships felt by the Aboriginal people.
Act 2 Scene 3 of Rainbows End depicts Gladys’ response to the relentless discrimination the Dear family have encountered throughout the play. After Dolly admits she’s given up and declines to go for the bank job- symbolic of the choke hold European settlement had on Indigenous society, Gladys is tired of being treated differently and shows the significance of perspective as she takes a stand against segregation. Gladys understands that her people have been oppressed for too long and that it will only continue if no one fights back, it’s her perspective of the situation- not wanting the same for Dolly or the Dolly’s of the future that empowers her to gatecrash the council meeting and claim “I’m not an interloper- I belong here- this is my land.” Gladys’ actions force the responder to consider the importance of integrity and standing up for what you believe in.
Act 2 Scene 7 of Rainbows End wraps up the plot with an extremely emotive moment between Nan and Errol before Gladys delivers a powerful and thought-provoking speech that is essentially the message of the play. Gladys’ transformation from a timid reserved character longing for acceptance to a powerful and commanding voice now ready to demand that acceptance occurs as a result of her resilience. Harrison uses irony where Gladys states “and this is the 50’s!” for the audience, the 50’s were nearly 70 years ago and discrimination is still hugely present in contemporary society which makes the responder think about how difficult it might’ve been for families just like the Dear family and what it means for Gladys to say what she said.
In Billy Elliot, Mrs Wilkinson confronts Billy about missing an audition after his brother’s arrest in front Jackie and Tony who are horrified and angry to learn of his ballet lessons. A very angry Tony yells “what about giving him a childhood,” to which Billy responds “I don’t want one, I wanna be a ballet dancer.” Signifying that Billy has realised his dream, the camera cuts back and forth between Billy and Tony’s faces as they argue- exhibiting that Billy’s family is standing in the way of his dream. Following the argument Billy dances up a hill in clear frustration- emphasising his struggle as he feels that without the support of his family, he’ll never be what he wants to be. Daldry uses this scene to establish the importance of family, indicating that even if you have the drive to chase your goals you need support to overcome the adversity.
The climax of Billy Elliot shows a defiant Billy standing up to his father and to the withholdings of toxic masculinity by expressing himself through ballet in front of his shocked father. Camera angles looking down at Billy’s face and up at Jackie’s establish that although Billy is intimidated by his father, he is an individual and he’s willing to fight for what he wants. As Billy dances the music speeds up and the camera pans in on him dancing around the room, away from his father- symbolising the feeling of freedom he gets from ballet. After Jackie runs out of the room Billy chases and calls after him- this is a metaphor for the change in tempo of the film as Billy is now ready to fight for his dream. The viewer is encouraged to fight for what matters to them as an individual.
A scene near the end of Billy Elliot takes Billy and his father Jackie on a bus to London for his audition, Billy asks his father what London’s like and Jackie tells him “I don’t know son, I’ve never made it past Durham… there’s no mines in London.” The fact that his father has spent his whole life working and never seen the capital city of his own country surprises Billy but the insight gives him a priceless perspective of how life can be limited if you don’t chase your dreams which is exactly what Billy is inspired to do as identified by the end of the film. Daldry is sagacious in how he not only builds on the developing relationship between Billy and Jackie but also alludes to the importance of chasing your dreams.
Various responses to adversity evidently provoke a number of emotions dictated by individual human qualities in Jane Harrison’s Rainbows End and Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliot. Both texts expertly communicate shared human experiences from which society as an audience can learn.