How is Twentieth Century Drama Defined, and what makes it Successful?

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20th Century Drama-“Playing Sandwiches” By Alan Bennett.


Playing Sandwiches is a monologue by Alan Bennett from a collection called “Talking Heads”. It is a good and successful illustration of Twentieth Century drama.

How is Twentieth Century Drama Defined, and what makes it Successful?

To define Twentieth Century drama a number of things have to be considered. The most obvious way of recognising Twentieth Century drama is that it is often shown in the medium of television. This indicates the advance in technology, and if it is originally televised gives a clue to when it was written. Twentieth Century Drama in a theatre is possibly more difficult to identify. It can be recognized through the language used, the set and more importantly the issues and themes expressed in the piece. The language would obviously be more modern and possibly less formal. The set may show an advance in technology, for example televisions and telephones, which would not be incorporated into the set of an earlier play.

In this example, it is in the form of a monologue. This means that one character tells a story from his or her own perspective. There is therefore a narrow focus and a biased opinion on events. The story is concentrated usually on only one main plot, which is slowly revealed as the actor exposes more about himself.

The issues presented to the viewer signify the time in which it was written. As writing and drama have developed, issues are addressed which would have previously been taboo subjects. These issues range from paedophilia, single parents, racism, poverty, and sex. At first the shock factor of hearing these subjects publicly televised or published would have created much interest and controversy. As these subjects have been publicized by newspaper articles and television broadcasts, the disturbance that these issues cause would decrease, but introducing a character into your own home intensifies the shock created. This character takes on the figure of a companion and friend, and is admitted into your confidence as dialectic is created between the viewer and him. When a monologue is shown on television, it allows a character to intrude into your house and confide in you. This increases your initial trust, and later disgust. This monodrama is a device commonly used in twentieth century drama. Aspects of a character that you can relate to, such as a soft-spoken voice, a uniform or a familiar setting further increase the impact of an issue because we would associate them with something that we know and can relate to. Once again this increases trust in a character. Gradual revelation is a device used so the audience is actively thinking about the situation, and not passively watching. This is a Brechtian device used by the dramatist Bertold Brecht in his plays. He actively involved an audience by provoking their thoughts and opinion, using direct address, and asking an audience questions. He did not want an audience to get involved with a character, but thought that they should watch with ‘critical detachment’. This makes them question their opinions and stereotypes, and can often change or alter peoples views. It is used commonly in Twentieth Century Drama to introduce issues to a previously passive audience.

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What Makes Playing Sandwiches A Successful Example of Twentieth Century Drama?

        There are a number of ways of finding out about a character.  These are the facts, for example appearance, what they say about themselves, what they say about others, and what others say about them.  In Playing Sandwiches exploring these techniques reveals the character of Wilfred. The pieces of information evident by looking at him give an overall impression of a man who can be trusted and generally liked. He talks in an informal tone, as if to a close friend in a low tone with a ...

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