Out of the Wings

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Pic-Nic (c.1952), Fernando Arrabal

English title: Picnic on the Battlefield
Date written: c. 1952
First publication date: 1977
Keywords: family > parents and children, family, ideology > war
Genre and type: absurdist, magic realism

Join Zapo, his parents, and his prisoner Zepo, as they settle down for a picnic on a battlefield. Why should gunfire and bombs spoil an otherwise perfect Sunday afternoon?


In the middle of a battlefield, a lone soldier takes shelter in a trench. Between air raids he keeps himself busy knitting jumpers. This is Zapo, a young man clearly unused to war, as he wonders what time the battle will start and in which direction he should throw his bombs. While he knits, Mr and Mrs Tepan arrive. They are Zapo’s parents and have brought a picnic with them, hoping to spend a nice Sunday afternoon with their son. Unlike Zapo, Mr and Mrs Tepan are old hands at battle and are unfazed by the bursts of gunfire around them.

Mr and Mrs Tepan settle down for the afternoon. They put some music on, and Mr Tepan is keen to hear about his son’s battle record. Zapo has not exactly glorified himself in combat. In fact, he keeps his eyes tightly shut when firing his gun, and so does not even know how many men he has killed … if any. His inexperience soon shows, as Zepo, an enemy soldier, stumbles into the trench.

Both Zapo and Zepo stare at each other in terror, neither one knowing what to do. Thankfully, Zapo’s parents are on hand to help. They instruct Zapo to tie Zepo up, which he does so as apologetically as possible. With his prisoner immobilised, Zapo suggests they make the most of the situation by taking some photos. Zepo is initially reluctant, but eventually agrees to pose for a photo, just to be polite. Mr Tepan asks Zepo about his experience of being a soldier. Like Zapo, Zepo’s war record is unremarkable, as he too shuts his eyes when he fires his gun. The family invite Zepo to share their picnic, untying him so he can fully enjoy his lunch. Both Zapo and Zepo are alarmed by the sound of another air raid, and take shelter in fear. Mr and Mrs Tepan are, once again, unperturbed by the bombardment. They simply put up an umbrella to protect themselves. Once the bombs have stopped, two Red Cross stretcher-bearers appear. They are hugely disappointed to learn that no one has been killed or injured. If they return to their base with no bodies, they will never earn the respect of their superiors. The family apologise profusely for still being alive. Despondent, the stretcher-bearers head out over the battlefield in the hope of finding a dead or dying soul to bring back triumphantly to their base.

Mr Tepan asks Zepo why he is an enemy soldier. He has no idea, explaining that he was simply ordered to enlist. Zapo, similarly, was forced to join the army despite his inexperience and reluctance. Zapo’s parents suggest that, since both men are bored in their respective trenches, they should get together from time to time. Zapo is unsure about this, having heard the terrifying way the enemy treats its prisoners. Feeling the sudden hostility towards him, poor Zepo explains that he has heard similar stories about the other side. Convinced that Zepo is not a monster, the family cordially continue their picnic. Zepo and Zapo complain about the war, until Mr Tepan suggests that each convince his respective side that the other side does not wish to fight anymore. Zepo and Zapo think this is a fantastic idea, and the family and their prisoner celebrate by dancing together. No one hears when the battle telephone rings, nor do they notice as the sound of gunfire gets louder and louder. Suddenly, a burst of machine gun fire kills everyone. The two stretcher-bearers return and prepare to carry off their first-ever batch of dead bodies.

Critical response

Picnic on the Battlefield is generally considered to be a denouncement of the absurdity of war, in which – like Zapo and Zepo– the soldiers on the front line often have little or no understanding of the conflict in which they are caught up. The parallels established between Zapo and Zepo suggest the absurd fratricidal nature of war and civil wars in particular (Pulido 1992: 92).

  • Pulido, Genara. 1992. ‘El diálogo en el marco de la teoría dramática de Fernando Arrabal. El caso de Pic-Nic’. In Escritores españoles exiliados en Francia, ed. Agustín-Gómez Arcos, pp. 87-96. Alemería, Instituto de Estudios Almerienses (in Spanish)

  • Arrabal, Fernando. 1977. Pic-Nic, El triciclo, El laberinto. Madrid, Cátedra

  • Arrabal, Fernando. 1979. Teatro completo, vol. I, introduction by Angel Berenguer. Madrid, Cupsa Editorial

  • Arrabal, Fernando. 2006. Pic-Nic, El triciclo, El laberinto, ed. Ángel Berenguer. Madrid, Cátedra

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 15 March 2011.

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