Wednesday 31st July saw the first of nine performances of The British Pageant, the first of its kind in Europe and one of the first to be held outside North America. Over 300 volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of all ages and backgrounds will perform in this live musical production that tells the story of their British heritage and deep roots in Christianity. The Pageant will be performed in Chorley, on the Preston England Temple site, under an impressive marquee built to house a 480 square feet stage in front of audiences of 1,500.
After a nineteenth century-themed festival of activities the whole family can enjoy, including games, crafts and a parade, the dramatic production will be performed to ticket-holders. Traditional and original music sung by a 200 person choir will accompany a cast of 100 British members of the Church, who have been rehearsing since auditions ended in March.
Stephen Kerr, President of the Pageant, said: “We Latter-day Saints have a tremendous good news story to share with the whole world and a major part of the beginnings of this dramatic story takes place in [Britain].”
Audiences will hear the British stories of sacrifice and commitment that preceded the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Martyrs such as William Tyndale and Thomas More gave their lives so that every person in Britain could have the Bible in their own language. Audiences will also witness a re-enactment of the arrival of the first Mormon missionaries in Britain in 1837, and hear the message that changed the lives of large numbers of people who flocked to the United States after being baptised as Mormons. It will be a story told in music, acting, and readings from 150 year-old journals.
“It is the story of those who seek for truth and having found it are loyal and true to it,” said President Kerr. “It is our story and in telling it in the words of our [ancestors] we believe we are also sharing our own personal testimonies of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Members of the Mormon faith of all ages and backgrounds will tell the story. This large cast and choir are all amateur performers from all over Britain, who have volunteered their time in the past months to rehearse together, learning lines and choreographed folk dances.
Elizabeth Roberts, from Gloucestershire, once danced with the Royal Ballet. She and her granddaughter Caitlin, 10, are performing in the Pageant. She said, “Though the cast are all volunteers, most of whom have little professional experience, the difference is made up by willing hearts and the presence of the Spirit.”
For volunteers like Bishop Simon Munday from North Yorkshire, the Pageant is a family affair – all five of his children (ages 8-16) are performing in the show, and his wife is in the choir.
The Beasley family from Leicestershire is likewise abuzz with enthusiasm for the Pageant. Describing the preparation for their roles in the Pageant and learning their lines, Carol Beasley said, “Our kitchen, lounge and dining room are often filled with the voices of Heber C. Kimball, George Q. Cannon, Alexander Baird and others [who served as early missionaries in Britain].”
“We are so looking forward to this great event, to making wonderful friends. We're looking forward to giving all we've got and sharing our most precious feelings about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The Pageant was written by Alexandra Mackenzie Johns, from Jersey, who also directs the Pageant, organising a larger cast than most Broadway shows; Beth Trebilcock, from Lancashire, directs the music; Amy Robinson, from London, has perhaps undertaken the biggest challenge – at eight months pregnant, she choreographed traditional folk dances that even teenage boys could participate in!
Clifford Herbertson, ecclesiastical leader who presides over Britain, said: “The rich history of the Church in [Britain] is something most people are not familiar with, even for many of our own members. With dramatic conversions and tens of thousands of British and Irish people joining the Church in the nineteenth century, the British Pageant brings the early history of Mormonism in the British Isles to life.”