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image credit, Radkapix: The Masterful Nicholas Collett as Shakespeare, ‘An Audience with the Bard’, Royal Oak and Castle Inn Pevensey, Friday 3 March 2017

The lights are back on. Approaching the Royal Oak and Castle in Pevensey (Monday, midday 7 October 2019), thoughts went back to a seminal moment in the recent history of the community pub.

On Friday 3 March 2017, in the evening, the public house was joined by William Shakespeare.

The gig, ‘An Audience with the Bard’ was performed by national award winning actor Nicholas Collett, who in 2016 won the Best Performance by an Actor at the British Arrows Craft Awards for the commercial “Spare the Act – Laptop” made for AMVBBDO with Jeff Goldblum.

As Nicolas Collett commented at the time. “an acting masterclass and he got to kiss Jeffrey GoldbIum”.

The hour performance was stunning. He broke the fourth wall as Shakespeare, in a broad Warwickshire accent, by talking to his wife, who he plucked at random from the audience in the first lines. This set the tone for proceedings, inclusive, intimate and conversational.

At one point there was a pure piece of magic with Nicholas Collett as Shakespeare, sat on the table wedged in the corner of the pub ‘in conversation’ in Elizabethan England, sharing a drink with Kit Marlowe

As people left, still talking about the show, they left to walk the boards of Pevensey High Street.

The Elizabethan set designers were not needed to sprinkle catwalk magic on the evening for the ad hoc theatre goers as they went their way, because, as the Mint House opposite will testify, the Elizabethan set designers have never left  Pevensey High Street.

The Royal Oak and Castle in Pevensey was packed that night with upwards of 100 people there to witness the show. There was a meal as part of the evening proceedings. An audience with the Bard by Nicholas Collett could have been playing off West End somewhere.

This was not the only performance at the community Royal Oak and Castle, there were installations, artists, quirky performances, bands, men with moustaches on bicycles in the Cattle Market car park,  and on stage in the car park one shining Saturday afternoon, a man who sat in a glass box as a living performance.

Then there were performers inspired by the mummers, entertainers and on May 4, there were the Star Wars Storm Troopers taking back Pevensey Castle (May 4th be with us again).

The Royal Oak and Castle was a spectacular community success as a public house for five years. Most importantly what we witnessed was spirit and character to the pub and that lovely warmth and greeting when you walked in, that made every visit a special visit.

And in the summer months there were all kinds of knots of people on the inside and outside on all the tables and they sang in their chains like the sun. And the baked camembert was beautiful.

Hayley Fitton was there as a barwoman, now back as the landlady, this is a hard act to follow, like Dorothy stepping into the red shoes.

Pausing to enter the celebrated local community public house, the lights really were full on, even if, for this first week, there are still, understandably, some teething problems. For reference, as they have posted, our card machine has not arrived in time, we are accepting cash payments.

Walking in, there was an immediate sense of warmth and a vibe.

Hayley appeared from behind the scenes to serve at the bar.

“Was she nervous?”.

There was a pause and then perhaps the best answer that any new landlady could possibly give in the circumstances..

She collected herself and then after a faint flicker, her face filled with the warmth of a natural, strong glow and she broke into a smile.

“What this pub needs”, she said, “is love”.

Walking round the corner, there was an invitation to see the new wallpaper at the end in the side bar, with the golden letters that spelt autumn with a contrapuntal pumpkin on the sideboard.

There was warmth and character in the room. With the wallpaper, a modern spin on William Morris with a gentle cascade of flowers. The tables were positioned with thought . The welcoming spirit was simple and well engineered.

“What I want”, she said, as she warmed to her theme, ‘is a quirky community spirit for the pub”.

With practice as a barwoman and now as the newly installed landlady, we are seeing in Hayley Fitton, an apprentice master of her craft, at work already.

Her imprint is there already, not just with the choice of the wallpaper. We would have money on Hayley Fitton making the pub her own within months.

If community be the food of love, play on Hayley Fitton.

And then there is the Facebook page back. Within days, the spirit of what she intends is flooding into the communications from the Royal Oak and Castle.

“Thank you to everyone that has helped to get the Royal Oak back open, to everyone who has shared posts, been in for a drink, been patient while we make changes, we can’t wait for more fun and laughter. Everyone is welcome”.—Royal Oak and Castle Inn, 6 October 2019

Read interview about her plans as the new landlady of the Royal Oak and Castle, exclusively in the pages of the Pevensey Bay Journal,  An audience with Hayley Fitton coming soon.

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