News Release

Helping Hands Dress British Pageant

It’s the final week of The British Pageant on the Preston Temple site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chorley, Lancs. A new supporting cast is in full swing of performing and greeting audiences at popular pre-show activities. Guests continue to be impressed by the magnitude of the show: from the size of the specially-constructed temporary Pageant theatre, to the sheer number of performers on stage each night.


One of the most impressive details of the show is the costumes, which add a vital element of authenticity to the Pageant. Like the majority of the functions of the production, the costumes have been provided on an entirely voluntary basis, and it’s all been made possible by Helen Chisholm of Kilmarnock, Scotland.

When Chisholm first heard about the Pageant, she thought she could certainly knit a few period-authentic shawls to contribute, but her reputation as a skilled seamstress preceded her. She was soon managing a team of eager volunteers, designing and making the costumes for the entire core cast of the show and many of the supporting cast.

“At any given time we’ll have between four and ten volunteers at the sewing machines,” Chisholm said, describing the sewing workshops she has been running for the past 8 weeks. “They are women of all ages, from young mothers to seasoned sewers who want to contribute: cutting, pinning, sewing, knitting.” Chisholm has been grateful for their service - from expert sewers and willing learners alike.

Chisholm said that the volunteers’ contributions to the design of the costumes were key: so many ideas, fabrics and mediums made for a very vibrant and varied cast. Basic costume ideas were shared between Chisholm and costume designers from other Pageants across the world: from Nauvoo Illinois and Palmyra New York, where popular Mormon Pageants are held. Chisholm said that as the possibilities of the costume department unfolded, so did the creativity of the volunteers “From the bigger dresses and shirts, to detailed shawls, jackets, bonnets, ties and caps.”

While most of the choir was asked to put together their own costumes, the cast members’ costumes were made to be distinguishing features on an otherwise very busy stage. At many times, 300 performers are on stage at once! Chisholm shared a few design ideas that have helped the audience to keep track of particular characters on stage: each family on stage, such as the Ashton and Cannon families, have similar clothing in terms of colour and design. Sarah Ashton wears a peach-coloured dress that’s almost identical to her younger sister’s. Her brothers and father wear the same sorts of colours in their simple outfits. The Cannon family has patterned red and gold accents in their ensembles. Other families are distinguished in this subtle way, while some costume choices are very deliberate: Ben Hunter plays Alexander Baird, a Scot, whose costume reflects traditional tartan charm.

Chisholm’s favourite ensemble is that of Margaret and Twizzleton Turley. This brash cockney couple - an audience favourite - are distinguished by their garish, satin, striped humbug-coloured waistcoat, tie and skirt. It’s a fun way to embody the characters: even their costumes indicate that the pair are attached at the hip in a comical way.

Working with such a huge and varied cast, from small children to retired couples, must be a challenging feat: but Chisholm insisted that the cast have been easygoing and willing to be dressed as she directs. Were the young girls picky about their skirts? “Not at all,” said Chisholm, “but you’d be surprised how many of the men would pop into the department looking for accessories! Ties, caps, braces - they were really excited about it!”

The costume department has experienced small ‘miracles’ as they’ve been about their work. In ‘mini’ moments of crisis, things have often fallen into place unexpectedly and quickly. “I often remind myself that it’s the Lord’s work, and He’ll find a way for it to be done. The experience has really given me faith.”

One such moment happened on the opening day of the Pageant. Last minute costuming changes were made, and Chisholm and her team were asked to create two new dresses in a matter of a few hours! From finding the fabric at a Chisholm’s favourite fabric shop in Preston Market, to stitching the final hemline, the project was done in time for the curtain call.

Chisholm has also been overwhelmed by the willingness of the Relief Society, the women’s organization within the Church, to help out in a time crunch. “The past two Sunday meetings have been turned over to assisting with the costumes: everyone is so happy to aid wherever they can.”

This willingness seems to be the crux of the Pageant: helping hands ready to assist where they can, whether it’s in costume, staging, props, ushering… Chisholm reflects, “It makes you proud to know each [volunteer], especially the youth. The gospel’s important to us, and serving like this makes us feel special.”

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