Out of the Wings

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En la roca (2005-2009), Ernesto Caballero

English title: On the Rock
Date written: from 2005 to 2009
First publication date: 2005
First production date: December 2009
Keywords: morality, violence, power > war, history > change/revolution, ideology > politics, ideology > morality, love > friendship

The year is 1937. Across Spain, a brutal civil war is raging. In the famous Gibraltar Rock Hotel, two young men reminisce over the course of an evening about their Cambridge days. In a meeting where nothing is quite what it seems, the fate of the Second Spanish Republic and the very course of the Second World War rests in their hands. On the Rock invites its audience to step back in time to the interwar years and the smoke-filled world of international espionage…

[pitch by Sarah Maitland]


On a balmy Gibraltar evening in 1937, two friends gather in a hotel bar. Kim Philby works for The Times, while Guy Burgess works for the BBC. They are just some ten miles from the ravages of the Spanish Civil War, yet the soil they stand on is resolutely British. Guy and Kim, however, are not as British as they seem. They are spies for the Soviet Secret Service, enchanted by Communism and recruited during their Cambridge days. Kim, in particular, has been using his position as a journalist to spy on Franco’s Nationalist forces.

Guy and Kim are quite different characters. Kim is thoughtful and strongly committed to his communist beliefs. Guy, however, seems more interested in the whisky and in reminiscing about their days in Cambridge. But soon, as the whisky starts to take effect, the men’s conversation takes a more serious turn. Kim is growing increasingly worried about the stronghold Franco is gaining in Spain. He has seen first-hand the atrocities Franco’s forces have committed. Kim is frustrated in his current role, wishing he could do more to help the Soviets and the Spanish Republicans stop Franco. Perhaps now is his chance. Guy claims to have come instead of Kim’s normal handler to give him a very special message. Moscow wants Kim to use his press credentials to infiltrate Franco’s inner circle. Once inside, Kim must kill Franco.

For the rest of the evening, the prospect of being so heavily involved in changing the course of history looms large in the men’s conversation. At first, Kim rejects the idea and shies away from the gun Guy gives him. He may hate Franco, but Kim does not believe he could kill a man. But as the drink flows, Kim starts to take the proposition more seriously. Guy is horrified that his friend might actually agree to the mission. His orders from Moscow included an instruction that Kim must not let himself be taken alive after the murder. The mission is, in effect, suicidal. Fuelled by the whisky, Guy confesses that he does not believe that Stalin wishes Franco to be killed. Rather, the order came from Orlov, Stalin’s representative in Spain. Guy claims that Orlov has fallen out of favour with Stalin and may be trying to impress by arranging the assassination. In fact, many people have fallen out of favour with Stalin, and Guy tells Kim all about the nightly purges taking place in Moscow and beyond. He and Kim argue over the realities of the Stalinist regime. Kim believes that Communism is still a worthwhile cause, while Guy is beginning to see huge similarities between Stalin and Franco. Eventually, Guy admits that his faith in Communism is faltering, that he feels disillusioned. But Kim does not appear to be sympathetic to his friend’s qualms. He pulls out a gun and makes to shoot Guy for being a traitor. In the end, he does not shoot. He was never going to. Instead, Kim affectionately thanks his dear old friend for trusting him enough to tell him about his doubts.

It is now late. The men agreee to talk more in the morning. But suddenly Kim notices something in the distance. He sees German warships, come to bomb Almeria in retaliation for the accidental sinking of a German ship by Republican forces. Guy is very confused. The bombing of Almeria takes place on 31 May 1937. This date is over a month away. It seems that time has shifted strangely, and the men are bemused as to how they could know the future. In fact, Guy and Kim soon become even more aware of future events. They know that Franco will win the war, that Kim will never kill him. Both of them will live out their lives gloriously in Russia after successful careers as spies.

Kim reflects on the 40 years of repression that Spain suffered under Franco. He feels responsible. Guy reminds Kim that his refusal to kill Franco was decided upon for honourable reasons, and that he could never have predicted the horror that was to come. The old friends decide to return once again to 1937. Kim gives Guy the gun. He instructs Guy to give to him the weapon during their long night of whisky drinking. This time, Kim claims, things might be different. He might accept the mission to kill Franco.


En la roca (On the Rock) takes its source material from the lives of Cambridge friends and fellow Soviet spies Guy Burgess (1911-63) and Kim Philby (1912-88). In 1937, when the play is set, Philby was indeed a special correspondent for The Times in Spain. During this time, he spied for the Soviets, and was at one point tasked to investigate the possibility of, and make arrangements for, the assassination of General Franco. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Philby did meet Guy Burgess on Gibraltar, where the order to kill Franco was given to him. Guy Burgess was a correspondent for the BBC and did spend some time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War.


Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 3 May 2011.

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