Out of the Wings

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En la red (1959), Alfonso Sastre Salvador

English title: In the Net
Date written: 1959
First production date: sometime between 1959 and 1961
Keywords: history > change/revolution, identity > race, ideology > politics, ideology > war, love, love > relationships, power > use and abuse, power > intimidation, violence > social, violence > torture
Genre and type: tragedy

In the stifling North African heat, the net is closing in on The Organisation. Men and women, soldiers and intellectuals – anyone involved in The Organisation’s struggle for independence is at risk. In an abandoned apartment, five members of The Organisation take shelter. But can they trust one another? Just who is Pablo, the relative stranger in their midst? And why does he ask so many questions about The Organisation, and about its leader?


A country in North Africa, the height of summer. The police are raiding houses, rounding up members of a rebel organisation fighting for the country’s independence from France. Some of the pursued, including Pablo and Celia, have taken refuge in an abandoned apartment. Pablo is a mysterious soldier, a relative newcomer to The Organisation. Celia is a veteran. She knows the rules: the less one knows about others, the less there is to tell if captured. Despite this, in the heat of the evening Celia and Pablo start to talk. Both are French, disgusted by their homeland’s treatment of its colonial citizens. Together they listen to The Organisation’s broadcast on the radio. It tells of mass arrests, of entire families being terrorised. Celia is greatly upset by the news, although she is at first reluctant to say why, fearing that Pablo might in fact be a police impostor. Eventually, she reveals that one of those arrested should have been with her, but that it was too late to warn them. It is clear that this person is very dear to Celia, although, still unsure of Pablo’s trustworthiness, she does not give a name.

The only other people hiding in the apartment are Tayeb and Aisha, an elderly native couple who have suffered terribly during the war. When Celia is out of the room, Pablo unexpectedly starts questioning Tayeb. He is particularly interested to find out if Tayeb knows the name of the leader of The Organisation, but the old veteran refuses to – or cannot – give him an answer. As the night draws on, Hanafi, the fugitives’ eyes and ears downstairs, takes the lift up to deliver the newspapers. Later, the lift is heard ascending once more. The characters wait in tense silence, as there is no one expected. To their relief, it is not the police. Instead, a man enters. He looks like he has been to hell and back. It is Celia’s husband Leo, who has miraculously survived capture and interrogation.

Leo has been badly beaten. He gives a harrowing account of the brutal treatment he received at the hands of the military police. Pablo and Celia are convinced that Leo must have talked, since few could endure such torture for long. Leo eventually admits that he did indeed give away the names of a few colleagues and some information about The Organisation. He is terribly ashamed, even though the other two do not think his revelations will be too dangerous for them. The mood briefly lifts as they listen to an official broadcast which claims that the leader of The Organisation has been captured. Celia and Leo are amused, since the name given out by the authorities is not in fact that of the leader. Once again, Pablo is interested to know who the head of The Organisation actually is but, as with Tayeb, Celia and Leo claim they do not know. All they know, they insist, is that it is not the man whose name has been announced on the radio.

As the night goes on, the threat to the fugitives increases, since the police have cordoned off the entire neighbourhood. They try to sleep, but Pablo secretly goes out on to the balcony and makes signals with a lamp. Tayeb sees him, but is threatened into keeping his silence. Just before dawn, Celia joins Pablo in the living room. The palpable sense of danger leads to a moment of intimacy between them in which Celia confesses that she no longer loves Leo. But their moment together is short lived: Leo enters and notices a car down below with a man in military uniform. Pablo bravely goes to find out who he is. While he is gone, Tayeb tells Celia and Leo about the clandestine signals on the balcony. It seems that Pablo is indeed an impostor. They have a gun, but Celia wonders how she or Leo – both intellectuals and not killers – will be able to shoot a man cold-heartedly.

When Pablo returns, however, he brings good news. The car was delivering emigration papers, which means that Tayeb and Aisha will be able to escape. Yet as soon as he is alone with Leo, Pablo wrestles the gun off him. On seeing Pablo with the gun, Celia assumes that everyone will now be arrested. But Pablo has no intention of harming anybody. In fact, he is very pleased to have learned first-hand that no one is prepared to admit they even know the name of The Organisation’s leader. He also gives Celia and Leo their own emigration papers. Gradually, it dawns on Celia that Pablo may in fact be the leader of The Organisation. While he does not openly admit this, Pablo apologises for the subterfuge; it was a necessary evil to help them all escape. Sadly, however, the characters will never be free. The military police have caught up with them. Leo is gunned down trying to escape, and Pablo and Celia are seized. In their last bittersweet exchange they both promise to withstand the inevitable torture that awaits them. One gunman stays behind to wait for the return of Tayeb and Aisha. Unmoved by the violence, he saunters on to the balcony to smoke. This is when Hanafi enters the flat. He looks at Leo’s body, looks at the audience, and simply states ‘murderers’.


1959 Madrid / The Algerian War  (1954-62)

There are a number of indications in En la red (In the Net) that point to the fact that it is set during the Algerian War. This war revolved around Algeria’s struggle for independence from France, which was eventually gained. The conflict was marked by the particularly widespread and brutal use of torture on both sides. The harrowing interrogation experience that Leo recounts in the play is taken from La Question (1958), a well-known book by Henri Alleg that documents the torture practices during the French-Algerian conflict (Caudet 2008).

Political oppression in Spain

En la red (In the Net) may be set in Africa, but its dramatisation of oppression and brutality is a reflection of the Spanish political regime – as experienced by Sastre – at the time. The playwright recalls how, just before a national day of protest arranged by the Communist Party in 1959, there was a raid by police and many people were arrested. As a member of the Communist Party himself, Sastre wanted to set the play in Madrid during these events. Since such a play would have been censored by Franco’s government, the playwright relocated the action to North Africa, using references to the fight for Algerian liberation to allude to the oppressive regime in Spain. Sastre notes, however, that the allusions to Algeria might not resonate at all with Algerian or French audiences, and that a Russian-language production of the play in fact relocated the action to Madrid under the title Madrid no duerme de noche (Madrid Does Not Sleep at Night) (Sastre, quoted extensively in Caudet 2008).

Critical response

In his recollection of attending the 1961 production, Daniel Ladra recalls the intense sense of tragedy that ran through the play (Mariano de Paco 1993: 217). Ladra notes that the minimalist staging heightened the sense of tragedy and that, in particular, the ominous sound of the lift ascending and descending intensified the sense of threat (Mariano de Paco 1993: 217).

Mariano de Paco calls attention to the symbol of the net, reinforced in the play’s title, as an effective way of communicating the desperate situation the characters find themselves in. Not only are they trapped in a net in the apartment, as they are pursued and caught by the police, but they are also trapped in a web of suspicion, mistrustful of those who are in the net with them (Mariano de Paco 2002: 165).

  • Paco, Mariano de, ed. 1993. Alfonso Sastre. Murcia, Universidad de Murcia (in Spanish)

  • Paco, Mariano de. 2002. ‘En la red: la tragedia del hombre clandestino’. In Historia y antología del teatro español de posguerra (1961-1965), vol. V, eds. Víctor García Ruiz and Gregorio Torres Nebrera, pp. 163-6. Madrid, Fundamentos. Available online by clicking on the Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes website http://bib.cervantesvirtual.com/servlet/SirveObras/p275/01350508666682183191680/p0000001.htm#I_0_ [accessed January 2011]. (in Spanish)

Further information

Ten years after En la red (In the Net), Sastre wrote another play entitled Askatasuna! (Freedom!). It had very similar plot elements as En la red (In the Net), although the action centred on the Basque struggle for independence from Spain.

Even though Sastre deliberately set En la red (In the Net) in North Africa rather than Madrid to avoid censorship, it still was subject to changes, ostensibly due to possible French objections to the not-so-subtle references to the Algerian conflict (Ruiz and Nebrera 2002: 96).

  • García Ruiz, Víctor and Nebrera, Gregorio Torres, eds. 2002. Historia y antología del teatro español de posguerra (1961-1965), vol. V. Madrid, Fundamentos (in Spanish)

  • Sastre, Alfonso. 2002. En la red. In Historia y antología del teatro español de posguerra (1961-1965), vol. V, eds. Víctor García Ruiz and Gregorio Torres Nebrera, pp. 167-228. Madrid, Fundamentos

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Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 26 February 2011.

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