Copyright
A.A. Milne.

Second Plays online

. (page 1 of 16)
Online LibraryA.A. MilneSecond Plays → online text (page 1 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Rick Niles, John Hagerson, Karen Cotton and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.









BY THE SAME AUTHOR

FIRST PLAYS
THE DAY'S PLAY
THE HOLIDAY ROUND
ONCE A WEEK
ONCE ON A TIME
NOT THAT IT MATTERS
IF I MAY
MR. PIM
THE SUNNY SIDE





SECOND PLAYS

by A.A. MILNE






New York
ALFRED A. KNOPF


Printed in Great Britain by
R. & R. Clark, Limited, Edinburgh.




To

D.M.

SO LITTLE IN RETURN FOR SO MUCH




CONTENTS

MAKE-BELIEVE
MR. PIM PASSES BY
THE CAMBERLEY TRIANGLE
THE ROMANTIC AGE
THE STEPMOTHER




INTRODUCTION


Encouraged by the reviewer who announced that the Introduction to my
previous collection of plays was the best part of the book, I venture
to introduce this collection in a similar manner. But I shall be
careful not to overdo it this time, in the hope that I may win from my
critic some such tribute as, "Mr. Milne has certainly improved as a
dramatist, in that his plays are now slightly better than his
Introduction."

Since, then, I am trying to make this preface as distasteful as
possible, in order that the plays may shine out the more pleasantly, I
shall begin (how better?) with an attack on the dramatic critics. I
will relate a little conversation which took place, shortly after the
publication of "First Plays," between myself and a very much more
eminent dramatist.

EMINENT DRAMATIST (kindly) Your book seems to have been well reviewed.

MYSELF (ungratefully). Not bad - by those who reviewed it. But I doubt
if it was noticed by more than three regular dramatic critics. And
considering that two of the plays in it had never been produced -

EMINENT DRAMATIST (amused by my innocence). My dear fellow, _you_
needn't complain. I published an unproduced play a little while ago,
and it didn't get a single notice from anybody.

Now I hope that, however slightly the conversations in the plays which
follow may move the dramatic critic, he will at least be disturbed by
this little dialogue. All of us who are interested in the theatre are
accustomed to read, and sometimes to make, ridiculous accusations
against the Theatrical Manager. We condemn the mercenary fellow
because he will not risk a loss of two or three thousand pounds on the
intellectual masterpiece of a promising young dramatist, preferring to
put on some contemptible but popular rubbish which is certain to fill
his theatre. But now we see that the dramatic critic, that stern
upholder of the best interests of the British Drama, will not himself
risk six shillings (and perhaps two or three hours of his time) in
order to read the intellectual masterpiece of the promising young
dramatist, and so to be able to tell us with authority whether the
Manager really _is_ refusing masterpieces or no. He will not
risk six shillings in order to encourage that promising young
dramatist - discouraged enough already, poor devil, in his hopes of
fame and fortune - by telling him that he _is_ right, and that his
plays are worth something, or (alternatively) to prevent him from
wasting any more of his youth upon an art-form to which he is not
suited. No, he will not risk his shillings; but he will write an
important (and, let us hope, well-rewarded) article, informing us that
the British Drama is going to the dogs, and that no promising young
dramatist is ever given a fair chance.

Absurd, isn't it?

Let us consider this young dramatist for a moment, and ask ourselves
why he goes on writing his masterpieces. I give three reasons - in
their order of importance.

(1) The pleasure of writing; or, more accurately, the hell of not
writing. He gets this anyhow.

(2) The appreciation of his peers; his hope of immortality; the
criticism of the experts; fame, publicity, notoriety, swank,
_réclame_ - call it what you will. But it is obvious that he cannot
have it unless the masterpiece is given to the world, either by
manager or publisher.

(3) Money. If the masterpiece is published only, very little; if
produced, possibly a great deal.

As I say, he gets his first reward anyhow. But let us be honest with
ourselves. How many of us would write our masterpieces on a desert
island, with no possibility of being rescued? Well, perhaps all of us;
for we should feel that, even if not rescued ourselves, our
manuscripts - written on bark with a burnt stick - clutched in a
skeleton hand - might be recovered later by some literary sea-captain.
(As it might be, Conrad.) But how many of us would write masterpieces
if we had to burn them immediately afterwards, or if we were alone
upon the world, the last survivors of a new flood? Could we bear to
write? Could we bear not to write? It is not fair to ask us. But we
can admit this much without reserve; it is the second reward which
tears at us, and, lacking it, we should lose courage.

So when the promising young dramatist has his play refused by the
Managers - after what weeks, months, years of hope and fear,
uncertainty and bitter disappointment - he has this great consolation:
"Anyway, I can always publish it." Perhaps, after a dozen refusals, a
Manager offers to put on his play, on condition that he alters the
obviously right (and unhappy) ending into the obviously foolish, but
happy, ending which will charm the public. Does he, the artist,
succumb? How easy to tell himself that he must get his play before the
public somehow, and that, even if it is not _his_ play now, yet the
first two acts are as he wrote them, and that, if only to feel the
thrill of the audience at that great scene between the Burglar and the
Bishop (his creations!) he must deaden his conscience to the absurdity
of a happy ending. But does he succumb? No. Heroically he tells
himself: "Anyway, I can publish it; and I'm certain that the critics
will agree with me that - - " But the critics are too busy to bother
about him. They are busy informing the world that the British Drama is
going to the dogs, and that no promising young dramatist ever gets a
fair chance.

Let me say here that I am airing no personal grievance. I doubt if any
dramatist has less right to feel aggrieved against the critics, the
managers, the public, the world, than I; and whatever right I have I
renounce, in return for the good things which I have received from
them. But I do not renounce the grievance of our craft. I say that, in
the case of all dramatists, it is the business of the dramatic critics
to review their unacted plays when published. Some of them do; most of
them do not. It is ridiculous for those who do not to pretend that
they take any real interest in the British Drama. But I say "review,"
not "praise." Let them damn, by all means, if the plays are unworthy;
and, by damning, do so much of justice to the Managers who refused
them.

We can now pass on safely to the plays in this volume.

We begin with a children's play. The difficulty in the way of writing
a children's play is that Barrie was born too soon. Many people must
have felt the same about Shakespeare. We who came later have no
chance. What fun to have been Adam, and to have had the whole world of
plots and jokes and stories at one's disposal. Possibly, however, one
would never have thought of the things. Of course, there are still
others to come after us, but our works are not immortal, and they will
plagiarise us without protest. Yet I have hopes of _Make-Believe_, for
it had the honour of inaugurating Mr. Nigel Playfair's management at
the Lyric, Hammersmith. It is possible that the historians will
remember this, long after they have forgotten my plays; more likely
(alas!) that their history will be dated A.D. (After Drinkwater) and
that the honour will be given to "Abraham Lincoln." I like to think
that in this event my ghost will haunt them. _Make-Believe_ appeared
with a Prologue by the Manager, lyrics by C.E. Burton, and music by
Georges Dorlay. As the title-page states that this book is, in the
language of children's competitions, "my own unaided work," I print
the play with a new Prologue, and without the charming lyrics. But the
reader is told when he may burst into an improvisation of his own,
though I warn him that he will not make such a good show of it as did
my collaborators.

_Mr. Pim Passes By_ appeared at several theatres. Let us admit
cheerfully that it was a success - in spite of the warning of an
important gentleman in the theatrical world, who told me, while I was
writing it, that the public wouldn't stand any talk of bigamy, and
suggested that George and Olivia should be engaged only, not married.
(Hence the line, "Bigamy! . . . It _is_ an ugly word," in the Second
Act.) But, of course, nobody sees more clearly than I how largely its
success was due to Mr. Dion Boucicault and Miss Irene Vanbrugh.

_The Romantic Age_ appeared first at the Comedy, and (like _Mr. Pim_)
found, in its need, a home at The Playhouse. Miss Gladys Cooper has a
charming way of withdrawing into a nursing home whenever I want a
theatre, but I beg her not to make a habit of it. My plays can be
spared so much more easily than she. By the way, a word about
Melisande. Many of the critics said that nobody behaved like that
nowadays. I am terrified at the thought of arguing with them, for they
can always reduce me to blushes with a scornful, "My dear man, you
_can't_ do that in a _play_!" And when they tell me to remember what
Strindberg said in '93 (if he were alive then; I really don't know) or
what Aristotle wrote in - no, I shan't even guess at Aristotle, well,
then, I want to burst into tears, my ignorance is so profound. So,
very humbly, I just say now that, when Melisande talks and behaves in
a certain way, I do not mean that a particular girl exists (Miss
Jones, of 999 Bedford Park) who talks and behaves like this, but I do
mean that there is a type of girl who, in her heart, secretly,
_thinks_ like this. If, from your great knowledge of the most secret
places of a young girl's heart, you tell me that there is no such
type, then I shall only smile. But if you inform me sternly that a
dramatist has no business to express an attitude in terms of an
actress, then you reduce me to blushes again. For I really know
nothing about play-writing, and I am only sustained by two beliefs.
The first is that rules are always made for the other people; the
second is that, if a play by me is not obviously by me, and as
obviously not by anybody else, then (obviously) I had no business to
write it.

Of the one-act plays, _The Camberley Triangle_ and _The Stepmother_,
nothing much need be said. The former was played at the Coliseum; the
latter, written for Miss Winifred Emery, was deemed by the management
too serious for that place of amusement. This, however, was to the
great advantage of the play, for now it has appeared only at Charity
_matinées_ with an "all-star" cast.

As before, the plays are printed in the order in which they were
written; in this case between October 1918 and June 1920. May the
reader get as much enjoyment from them as I had in their writing. But
no; that is plainly impossible.

A.A. MILNE.




MAKE-BELIEVE

A CHILDREN'S PLAY IN A PROLOGUE AND THREE ACTS


_Make-Believe_ was first produced at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith,
on December 24, 1918. The chief parts were played by Marjory Holman,
Jean Cadell, Rosa Lynd, Betty Chester, Roy Lennol, John Barclay,
Kinsey Peile, Stanley Drewitt, Ivan Berlyn, and Herbert
Marshall - several parts each.




MAKE-BELIEVE

PROLOGUE


The playroom of the HUBBARD FAMILY - nine of them. Counting MR. and
MRS. HUBBARD, we realize that there are eleven HUBBARDS in all, and
you would think that one at least of the two people we see in the room
would be a HUBBARD of sorts. But no. The tall manly figure is JAMES,
the HUBBARDS' butler, for the HUBBARDS are able to afford a butler
now. How different from the time when Old Mother Hubbard - called "old"
because she was at least twenty-two, and "mother" because she had a
passion for children - could not even find a bone for her faithful
terrier; but, of course, that was before HENRY went into work. Well,
the tall figure is JAMES, the butler, and the little one is ROSEMARY,
a friend of the HUBBARD FAMILY. ROSEMARY is going in for literature
this afternoon, as it's raining, and JAMES is making her quite
comfortable first with pens and ink and blotting-paper - always so
important when one wants to write. He has even thought of a stick of
violet sealing-wax; after that there can be no excuse.

ROSEMARY. Thank you, James. (She sits down.) If any one calls I am not
at home.

JAMES. Yes, Miss.

ROSEMARY. You may add that I am engaged in writing my
auto - autobiography.

JAMES. Yes, Miss.

ROSEMARY. It's what every one writes, isn't it, James?

JAMES. I believe so, Miss.

ROSEMARY. Thank you. (He goes to the door.) Oh, James?

JAMES. Yes, Miss?

ROSEMARY. What _is_ an autobiography?

JAMES. Well, I couldn't rightly say, Miss - not to explain it properly.

ROSEMARY (dismayed). Oh, James! . . . I thought you knew everything.

JAMES. In the ordinary way, yes, Miss, but every now and then - -

ROSEMARY. It's very upsetting.

JAMES. Yes, Miss. . . . How would it be to write a play instead? Very
easy work, they tell me.

ROSEMARY (nodding). Yes, that's much better. I'll write a play. Thank
you, James.

JAMES. Not at all, Miss. [He goes out.

(ROSEMARY bites her pen, and thinks deeply. At last the inspiration
comes.)

ROSEMARY (as she writes). Make-Believe. M-a-k-e hyphen B-e-l - - (she
stops and frowns) Now which way _is_ it? (She tries it on the
blotting-paper) _That_ looks wrong. (She tries it again) So does that.
Oh, dear! (She rings the bell . . . JAMES returns.)

JAMES. Yes, Miss?

ROSEMARY. James, I have decided to call my play Make-Believe.

JAMES. Yes, Miss.

ROSEMARY (carelessly). When you spell "believe," it is "i-e," isn't
it?

JAMES. Yes, Miss.

ROSEMARY. I thought at first it was "e-i."

JAMES. Now you mention it, I think it is, Miss.

ROSEMARY (reproachfully). Oh, James! Aren't you certain?

JAMES. M-a-k-e, make, B-e-l - - (He stops and scratches his whiskers.)

ROSEMARY. Yes. _I_ got as far as that.

JAMES. B-e-l - -

ROSEMARY. You see, James, it spoils the play if you have an accident
to the very first word of it.

JAMES. Yes, Miss. B-e-l - - I've noticed sometimes that if one writes a
word careless-like on the blotting-paper, and then looks at it with
the head on one side, there's a sort of instinct comes over one, as
makes one say (with a shake of the head) "Rotten." One can then write
it the other way more hopeful.

ROSEMARY. I've tried that.

JAMES. Then might I suggest, Miss, that you give it another name
altogether? As it might be, "Susan's Saturday Night," all easy words
to spell, or "Red Revenge," or - -

ROSEMARY. I _must_ call it Make-Believe, because it's all of the play
I've thought of so far.

JAMES. Quite so, Miss. Then how would it be to spell it wrong on
purpose? It comes funnier that way sometimes.

ROSEMARY. Does it?

JAMES. Yes, Miss. Makes 'em laugh.

ROSEMARY. Oh! . . . Well, which _is_ the wrong way?

JAMES. Ah, there you've got me again, Miss.

ROSEMARY (inspired). I know what I'll do. I'll spell it "i-e"; and if
it's right, then I'm right, and if it's wrong, then I'm funny.

JAMES. Yes, Miss. That's the safest.

ROSEMARY. Thank you, James.

JAMES. Not at all, Miss. [He goes out.

ROSEMARY (writing). Make-Believe. A Christmas Entertainment - - (She
stops and thinks, and then shakes her head.) No, play - a Christmas
Play in three acts. Er - - (She is stuck.)

_Enter JAMES_.

JAMES. Beg pardon, Miss, but the Misses and Masters Hubbard are
without, and crave admittance.

ROSEMARY. All nine of them?

JAMES. Without having counted them, Miss, I should say that the
majority of them were present.

ROSEMARY. Did you say that I was not at home?

JAMES. Yes, Miss. They said that, this being their house, and you
being a visitor, if you _had_ been at home, then you wouldn't have
been here. Yumour on the part of Master Bertram, Miss.

ROSEMARY. It's very upsetting when you're writing a play.

JAMES. Yes, Miss. Perhaps they could help you with it. The more the
merrier, as you might say.

ROSEMARY. What a good idea, James. Admit them.

JAMES. Yes, Miss. (He opens the door and says very rapidly) The Misses
Ada, Caroline, Elsie, Gwendoline, and Isabel Hubbard, The Masters
Bertram, Dennis, Frank, and Harold Hubbard. (They come in.)

ROSEMARY. How do you do?

ADA. Rosemary, darling, what _are_ you doing?

BERTRAM. It's like your cheek, bagging our room.

CAROLINE (primly). Hush, Bertram. We ought always to be polite to our
visitors when they stay with us. I am sure, if Rosemary wants our
room - -

DENNIS. Oh, chuck it!

ADA (at ROSEMARY'S shoulder). Oh, I say, she's writing a play!

(Uproar and turmoil, as they all rush at ROSEMARY.)

{ THE BOYS. Coo! I say, shove me into it. What's
{ it about? Bet it's awful rot.
{
{ THE GIRLS. Oh, Rosemary! Am _I_ in it? Do tell us
{ about it. Is it for Christmas?

ROSEMARY (in alarm). James, could you - - ?

JAMES (firmly). Quiet, there, quiet! Down, Master Dennis, down! Miss
Gwendoline, if you wouldn't mind - - (He picks her up and places her
on the floor.) Thank you. (Order is restored.)

ROSEMARY. Thank you, James. . . . Yes, it's a play for Christmas, and it
is called "Make-Believe," and that's all I'm certain about yet, except
that we're all going to be in it.

BERTRAM. Then I vote we have a desert island - -

DENNIS. And pirates - -

FRANK. And cannibals - -

HAROLD (gloatingly). Cannibals eating people - Oo!

CAROLINE (shocked). Harold! How would _you_ like to be eaten by a
cannibal?

DENNIS. Oh, chuck it! How would _you_ like to be a cannibal and have
nobody to eat? (CAROLINE is silent, never having thought of this
before.)

ADA. Let it be a fairy-story, Rosemary, darling. It's so much
_prettier_.

ELSIE. With a lovely princess - -

GWENDOLINE. And a humble woodcutter who marries her - -

ISABEL (her only contribution). P'itty P'incess.

BERTRAM. Princesses are rot.

ELSIE (with spirit). So are pirates! (Deadlock.)

CAROLINE. _I_ should like something about Father Christmas, and snow,
and waits, and a lovely ball, and everybody getting nice presents and
things.

DENNIS (selfishly, I'm afraid). Bags I all the presents.

(Of course, the others aren't going to have that. They all say so
together.)

ROSEMARY (above the turmoil). James, I _must_ have silence.

JAMES. Silence, all!

ROSEMARY. Thank you. . . . You will be interested to hear that I have
decided to have a Fairy Story _and_ a Desert Island _and_ a Father
Christmas.

ALL. Good! (Or words to that effect)

ROSEMARY (biting her pen). I shall begin with the Fairy Story. (There
is an anxious silence. None of them has ever seen anybody writing a
play before. How does one do it? Alas, ROSEMARY herself doesn't know.
She appeals to JAMES.) James, how _do_ you begin a play? I mean when
you've _got_ the title.

JAMES (a man of genius). Well, Miss Rosemary, seeing that it's to be
called "Make-Believe," why not make-believe as it's written already?

ROSEMARY. What a good idea, James!

JAMES. All that is necessary is for the company to think very hard of
what they want, and - there we are! Saves all the bother of writing and
spelling and what not.

ROSEMARY (admiringly.) James, how clever you are!

JAMES. So-so, Miss Rosemary.

ROSEMARY. Now then, let's all think together. Are you all ready?

ALL. Yes! (They clench their hands.)

ROSEMARY. Then one, two, three - Go!

(They think. . . . The truth is that JAMES, who wasn't really meant to be
in it, thinks too. If there is anything in the play which you don't
like, it is JAMES thinking.)




ACT I. - THE PRINCESS AND THE WOODCUTTER


(The WOODCUTTER is discovered singing at his work, in a glade of the
forest outside his hut. He is tall and strong, and brave and handsome;
all that a woodcutter ought to be. Now it happened that the PRINCESS
was passing, and as soon as his song is finished, sure enough, on she
comes.)

PRINCESS. Good morning, Woodcutter.

WOODCUTTER. Good morning. (But he goes on with his work.)

PRINCESS (after a pause). Good morning, Woodcutter.

WOODCUTTER. Good morning.

PRINCESS. Don't you ever say anything except good morning?

WOODCUTTER. Sometimes I say good-bye.

PRINCESS. You _are_ a cross woodcutter to-day.

WOODCUTTER. I have work to do.

PRINCESS. You are still cutting wood? Don't you ever do anything else?

WOODCUTTER. Well, you are still a Princess; don't _you_ ever do
anything else?

PRINCESS (reproachfully). Now, that's not fair, Woodcutter. You can't
say I was a Princess yesterday, when I came and helped you stack your
wood. Or the day before, when I tied up your hand where you had cut
it. Or the day before that, when we had our meal together on the
grass. Was I a Princess then?

WOODCUTTER. Somehow I think you were. Somehow I think you were saying
to yourself, "Isn't it sweet of a Princess to treat a mere woodcutter
like this?"

PRINCESS. I think you're perfectly horrid. I've a good mind never to
speak to you again. And - and I would, if only I could be sure that you
would notice I wasn't speaking to you.

WOODCUTTER. After all, I'm just as bad as you. Only yesterday I was
thinking to myself how unselfish I was to interrupt my work in order
to talk to a mere Princess.

PRINCESS. Yes, but the trouble is that you _don't_ interrupt your
work.

WOODCUTTER (interrupting it and going up to her with a smile). Madam,
I am at your service.

PRINCESS. I wish I thought you were.

WOODCUTTER. Surely you have enough people at your service already.
Princes and Chancellors and Chamberlains and Waiting Maids.

PRINCESS. Yes, that's just it. That's why I want your help.
Particularly in the matter of the Princes.

WOODCUTTER. Why, has a suitor come for the hand of her Royal Highness?

PRINCESS. Three suitors. And I hate them all.

WOODCUTTER. And which are you going to marry?

PRINCESS. I don't know. Father hasn't made up his mind yet.

WOODCUTTER. And this is a matter which father - which His Majesty
decides for himself?

PRINCESS. Why, of course! You should read the History Books,
Woodcutter. The suitors to the hand of a Princess are always set some
trial of strength or test of quality by the King, and the winner
marries his daughter.

WOODCUTTER. Well, I don't live in a Palace, and I think my own
thoughts about these things. I'd better get back to my work. (He goes
on with his chopping.)

PRINCESS (gently, after a pause). Woodcutter!

WOODCUTTER (looking up). Oh, are you there? I thought you were married
by this time.

PRINCESS (meekly). I don't want to be married. (Hastily) I mean, not
to any of those three.

WOODCUTTER. You can't help yourself.

PRINCESS. I know. That's why I wanted _you_ to help me.

WOODCUTTER (going up to her). Can a simple woodcutter help a Princess?

PRINCESS. Well, perhaps a simple one couldn't, but a clever one might.

WOODCUTTER. What would his reward be?

PRINCESS. His reward would be that the Princess, not being married to
any of her three suitors, would still be able to help him chop his
wood in the mornings. . . . I _am_ helping you, aren't I?

WOODCUTTER (smiling). Oh, decidedly.

PRINCESS (nodding). I thought I was.

WOODCUTTER. It is kind of a great lady like yourself to help so humble
a fellow as I.

PRINCESS (meekly). I'm not _very_ great. (And she isn't. She is the
smallest, daintiest little Princess that ever you saw.)

WOODCUTTER. There's enough of you to make a hundred men unhappy.

PRINCESS. And one man happy?

WOODCUTTER. And one man very, very happy.

PRINCESS (innocently). I wonder who he'll be. . . . Woodcutter, if _you_
were a Prince, would you be my suitor?

WOODCUTTER (scornfully). One of three?

PRINCESS (excitedly). Oo, would you kill the others? With that axe?

WOODCUTTER. I would not kill them, in order to help His Majesty make
up his mind about his son-in-law. But if the Princess had made up her
mind - and wanted me - -

PRINCESS. Yes?

WOODCUTTER. Then I would marry her, however many suitors she had.

PRINCESS. Well, she's only got three at present.

WOODCUTTER. What is that to me?

PRINCESS. Oh, I just thought you might want to be doing something to
your axe.

WOODCUTTER. My axe?

PRINCESS. Yes. You see, she _has_ made up her mind.

WOODCUTTER (amazed). You mean - But - but I'm only a woodcutter.

PRINCESS. That's where you'll have the advantage of them, when it
comes to axes.


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryA.A. MilneSecond Plays → online text (page 1 of 16)