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A Rake’s Progress at the Masonic Masquerade

2 July 2017

Seventy-five days before A Curious Invitation presented their Masonic Masquerade at the Andaz Hotel in London, a call-out was posted by Art Macabre – “Who wants to pose in a Masonic temple?! Saturday 24 June evening til late? #masonicmidsummer email if interested with photos of your face if I don’t know you already! And if you have any costumes as per the painting 🙂 artmacabre.co.uk” … The theme?


‘The Orgy’ – scene 3 of ‘A Rake’s Progress’ by William Hogarth

I sent an email pitch on behalf of myself and Esther – “a coarse gentleman and bawdy feminist” – alongside dozens of others, and felt hugely lucky and grateful that we were both picked. Working with us would be Lily Holder, model and artist, whom I had last posed with two years before, and helping as volunteer assistants were fellow models Tatiana and Carla. We were to appear in the ‘Hall of the All Seeing Eye’ at 11pm.

Arriving after 10pm, somehow we all miraculously found one another within the sprawl of rooms and foyers. In the main dressing room, Art Macabre director supreme, Nikki, began applying make-up and bits of costume to us. I got a tricorn hat, rouged cheeks and a pursing of red lipstick; Lily was fancified with a feather in her hair; whilst Esther had a powered face, black syphilis spots, and a tangled wig topped with a bonnet.

The previous show had overrun in the ‘Hall of the All Seeing Eye’, so it was with haste that Nikki prepared our stage. Doors were then cast open for immaculately-costumed, if somewhat inebriated, masked guests, with encouragements to draw. When all were settled, Nikki commenced her presentation of ‘A Rake’s Progress‘ – the fictional tale of Tom Rakewell, told in a series of eight paintings by William Hogarth.

I portrayed Tom, whilst Lily and Esther alternated either as his spurned fiancée, Sarah Young, or assorted harlots. First I was solo and preening in new found wealth, then on came Lily with raised ‘put-a-ring-on-it’ finger, and next came a good clean orgy. Poses were all short: 5-minutes, 7, 10 being most frequent; never less than 3-minutes, never more than 15. Onlookers drew complete tableaux, or sometimes just individuals.

Our artists came and went; some stayed absorbed, whilst others shambled, slumped, drew and withdrew. After Nikki was all done creating and narrating A Rake’s Progress in its entirety, we took a pause to reset the stage. The room was cleared, but only for a few minutes. Soon Tatiana and Carla were back among the raucous revellers, luring them towards our domain. The tableaux recommenced.

We were due to be posing until one o’clock in the morning, but I had lost my sense of time and how much of it remained. For the second half, we started from the beginning again, only now with fewer individual tableaux. Each came with an appropriate playlist, yet as we neared the end, Nikki’s music was all but drowned out by the noisy hubbub of socialites sketching. We finished in the Gaming House, Prison and Madhouse…

Nikki herself joined us in the final scene. It was a lovely way to close an extraordinary evening. Afterwards Esther and I got changed and checked out the entertainments on offer in the Masonic Temple, Confession Booth and other glamorous settings. Tatiana, Carla, Lily and Nikki were still lost deep within their midst when eventually we slipped away. Sadly we missed saying goodbyes, but we’d enjoyed great Progress together.

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