Behind the scenes at the Mormon British Pageant, Chorley

By Emma Stanley
BBC News

The cast
Image caption,
Performances include a cast of over 300 from babies to people in their eighties

There are 190,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the UK, and it feels like most of them have descended on a Lancashire town.

Mormons from across the country have been preparing for the start of a religious pageant marking the 175th anniversary of the church in Britain.

It's a hive of activity as over 1,000 volunteers work behind the scenes at a temple close to the town of Chorley.

The idea to organise a British Pageant started four years ago.

Pageants take place annually in the United States, but the organisers said this is the first to be held in Europe.

The Preston Temple site was chosen for its connections to the faith.

Image caption,
Linda Beverley is in charge of craft activities

The first Mormon missionaries were sent from New York to Liverpool in 1837, led by the Apostle Heber C Kimball.

They first preached in Preston in July of that year, and baptised their first nine converts the same month in the River Ribble.

Original songs

The pageant tells their story, with an original script that includes extracts from their journals.

Comprised of re‐enactments, storytelling, original songs and dancing, the pageant has been scripted and choreographed by volunteers of the Mormon faith.

Free evening performances involve a cast of over 300, from babies to people in their 80s, performing to 1,500 people in a temporary structure the size of two large school halls.

Image caption,
Helen Chisholm leads the costume team

"The set has been built completely and utterly from scratch by volunteers," said John Thompson, who is in charge of the production.

Mr Thompson has led a team of four leaders and a work crew of about 25 young people who have assisted in painting and building sets for the past year.

Performers from the pageant will be mingling with guests at a Victorian Fair held before the hour-long performance.

Linda Beverley, who is in charge of all the activities, said: "We want people to step on site and immediately feel they're back in the 1800s.

Image caption,
Sandy Maclean polishes her Irish accent backstage

"It's all about getting people into the spirit of it."

Free activities include traditional craft workshops as well as period photographs and costumes.

Those costumes have been worked on for three months by a team led by Helen Chisholm.

'Huge family'

Some have been donated from Salt Lake City, but about 50 have been made from scratch by volunteers in Yorkshire, Manchester, Blackpool, Birmingham and Staines.

Mrs Chisholm said: "So many people want to help, we've even had non-sewers doing jobs like adding buttons.

"I always wanted to design, but didn't get the chance to go to art college, so now I'm doing my designing bit."

An actress who proudly dons one such costume is Sandy Maclean, the oldest actor in the performance at 68 years old, who plays Irish sister Ellen Maybin.

"I went to an audition and they asked if I could do an Irish accent," she said.

"I've never been to Ireland, I have no Irish ancestry and no friends who are Irish, but someone touched me on the shoulder and said 'course you can do it' in an Irish accent and it just flowed out of me.

"I feel like I've really let my hair down and been given the chance to be someone a bit different."

One of the younger performers is 15-year-old Noah Liptrott from Macclesfield.

Image caption,
Noah Liptrott enjoys being involved in the choreography

"I used to go to a performing arts school so I thought I would join in here and have some fun," he said.

"It's been a very relaxed atmosphere. All the directors take you under their wing and give you direction in a lovely, kind way."

Noah said it had been great fun working with the youngest children: "I have five brothers so it reminds me of them running round - they're so funny.

"We sometimes play the piano at lunchtime and the kids come and tell jokes."

With an arts background, Noah has enjoyed helping with some of the choreography, which has been co-ordinated by assistant director Jonathan Mace.

Currently studying business management at the University of Birmingham, he hopes the experience will help in a career as a theatre manager.

Image caption,
Jonathan Mace hopes for a career in theatre management

"I've done a lot of school shows and youth theatre and last year I produced a musical," he said.

"The 14-hour days are worth it, because we truly believe what we're doing is important.

"It's about bringing people together. I only knew two or three people in the cast before and now we're like a huge family.

"We want everyone to feel part of that family."

Performance dates for the British Pageant are 31 July 1-3 August and 6-10 August at the Preston Temple, Chorley.

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