A play by A. A. Milne.
Second performance: Thurs. at 7.30
Lionel Hale writes...
There is no concealing the fact that Michael and Mary is a shocking, unconventional, eccentric, and possibly unfashionable play. It is all these things because our theatre is devoted to the theory that love between men and women is a joke, and very often a
joke in bad taste. As for marriage, infidelity is the rule. That is why I call Michael and Mary 'shocking.' It reflectively regards this rule of the theatre, and then breaks it, with a startling crack, for all to see. Michael and Mary is, simply enough, the story of a man and woman who have loved each other, still love each other, and propose to go on loving each other till death do them part.
Wherefore, there will be those to call the play 'sentimental'! (The only other modern play of the same feeling, Monckton Hoffe's Many Waters, is often called so.) On reflection, I should call it 'realistic,' because it is a plain matter of fact that there are a great many more people who keep out of the Divorce Court than get into it. Look down any suburban road and you may be pretty sure that while there may be something of a marital argy-bargy going on behind the drawn curtains of 'Sans Souci,' contentment reigns between the husbands and wives in 'Myholme,' 'The Firs,' and even 'Dunroamin.'
The irony of Mr. Milne's study of fidelity is that his Michael and his Mary are not married at all. They meet by chance in the British Museum. He is a struggling young writer of twenty-three; she is no more than twenty, but already married, and already deserted. Michael becomes her protector, in a strictly platonic way, until the arrival of his father, the upright Rector, who rather inconveniently, and not knowing the facts, insists that his son Marry The Girl - which means a life of bigamy.
Consequently, a life of bigamy it is. Now all this flows very prettily, with a nice touch of humour. Yet I take it that Mr. Milne, under his cheerful surface, has a serious point to make. He stresses that his Michael, whether as a young man or as the successful novelist he becomes, is thoroughly decent, law-abiding, and truthful; indeed, he stresses it even to the point of priggishness. But his main serious point (which he never makes aloud) is that love and fidelity endure everything, even the absence of the severely practical tie of marriage. 'Sentimental,' I suppose?
This quasi-marriage has, to be sure, its difficulties. Inevitably, the missing husband is sure to turn up, blackmail-bent. You could no more expect any dramatist to resist that situation than you could hold any strong hopes of a small boy keeping out of the jam cupboard. And the story of Michael and Mary, with their son David, takes thereafter
some ingenious turns and twists. Yet its theme remains constant: married love.
So do not let us pass about too lightly the word 'sentimentality' - even though Mr. Milne is capable of forging weapons against himself, such as the appellations of 'Binks' and 'Bubbles' which he allows the son to use to Michael and Mary. At all events, television here welcomes for the first time Miss Jane Baxter. Here is an actress who has a quality - I daresay it is not her fault - of causing women to purr and men to suppress silent gulps. As Miss Baxter could achieve this if she were reading aloud from the Great Western Railway time-table, I call in unfair. Enchanting, but unfair!
The Rev. Simon Rowe: