The Trials of Lancelot Quail

Company: Welfare State International
Location: South West tour
Date: 1972

In the Autumn of 1972, twenty-five members presented a month long performance in the form of a pilgrimage following in reverse the 150 mile legendary route of King Arthur. From Glastonbury to Lands End a procession of ten brightly decorated vehicles, ranging from a converted army rocket trailer to a hearse, made the trip, stopping along the way for the performers to present a variety of events incorporating images from the life of its fictional hermaphrodite hero Sir Lancelot Icarus Handyman Quail. This was performed by Jamie Proud, a pig farmer turned performer and teacher, a working-class hero and everyman figure who the audience could laugh at and with.

The tour climaxed with the disappearance of the entire company off the Cornish coast in the submarine H.M.S. Andrew. The iconic image taken from the event was by photographer Roger Perry.

John Fox in Theatre Quarterly, 1988:

‘The tour ended in Land’s End, Cornwall – but not quite. The company then embarked in a rowing boat to rendezvous with a Royal Navy Submarine, HMS Andrew, requisitioned by us to ‘bring down the curtain’ on a two-month exodus. We climbed into the conning tower and disappeared beneath the Atlantic.

For us, this was the moral of our quest, and a lesson which we wished to experience in as concrete a form as possible – namely, that radical art cannot be escapist, but has to engage with the socio-economic and geopolitical reality of our time, in this case by entering one of its most dominant icons, the Leviathan of the military-industrial complex.

Although it was never our intention to incite a mutiny among the crew of HMS Andrew, time or coincidence has produced a couple of ‘defectors’ to the arts. A few years ago a member of that crew turned up on our summer school course, having now become a community theatre worker. To our astonishment, he informed us that the captain of the Andrew later resigned his commission and went to art school in Devon!’

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