CRAIG BROWN: In a soggy wooden in Suffolk, I discover Britain at its finest

Throughout the election campaign, politicians spent an undue amount of time flattering the electorate.

In those six weeks, they told us that we British were good, kind, compassionate, brave, adventurous, hard-working, enterprising, strong, decent, tolerant, good-humoured, creative, cheerful in the face of adversity — and so on, ad infinitum.

By the end, I felt inclined to vote for the first candidate bold enough to berate us all for being cowardly, humourless and workshy.

Even when the voting was over, the flattery kept on coming. In his resignation speech outside No 10 last Friday, Rishi Sunak told us: ‘This is the best country in the world, and that is thanks entirely to you, the British people, the true source of all our achievements, our strengths and our greatness.’

It so happened that, long before the election date was announced, I had booked tickets for the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Patience, at an outdoor theatre in a wood in Thorington, Suffolk, which is close to where I live.

A local  on their way to vote at the UK's most southerly polling station to cast their vote on July 04, 2024 in The Lizard, near Helston, Cornwall

A local  on their way to vote at the UK’s most southerly polling station to cast their vote on July 04, 2024 in The Lizard, near Helston, Cornwall

When I looked out of the window on Friday morning, it was drizzly and overcast. Might it improve by the evening? We had planned to have a picnic before the opera, so I began to wonder whether we might change plans.

On the BBC weather website, an icon of a cloud had a giant spot of rain coming out of it. There was, they said, an 80 per cent chance of a downpour. Wouldn’t I prefer to stay at home, in the warmth, watching telly?

I’m ashamed to admit I toyed with the idea of chickening out and would have done so had we not already invited two friends from London, both keen Gilbert and Sullivan fans, to come with us.

So off we set in the car, the rain pattering on the windscreen. We picnicked in a field beneath an umbrella and then took the footpath to the theatre.

Here and there, the auditorium was shrouded by trees: it was easy to distinguish the least-protected areas as they were already darkened by damp. We manoeurvred our way onto some of the last remaining dryish seats, put on our hats, zipped up our waterproofs and hunkered down, preparing ourselves for a long and bitter evening.

But I was underestimating the magic of Gilbert and Sullivan: Gilbert’s brilliantly witty lyrics paired with Sullivan’s jaunty tunes. Within a couple of minutes, we had been transported to the 19th-century Britain of foppish aesthetes and doltish soldiers, all vying for the hands of love-sick maidens.

Lindy O'Hare poses with her dog, "Ding" as the RoughCast Theatre Company perform Shakespeare's "The Tempest" at "Thorington Theatre in the Woods", a newly completed natural woodland amphitheatre

Lindy O’Hare poses with her dog, ‘Ding’ as the RoughCast Theatre Company perform Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ at ‘Thorington Theatre in the Woods’, a newly completed natural woodland amphitheatre

By a strange coincidence, one of the early speeches was about the constraints of flattery. It is delivered by a rich young duke, who compares flattery to toffee.

‘Toffee in moderation is a capital thing. But to live on toffee — toffee for breakfast, toffee for dinner, toffee for tea — to have it supposed that you care for nothing but toffee, and that you would consider yourself insulted if anything but toffee were offered to you — how would you like that?’

As the performance went on, the drizzle turned into a downpour and the downpour became a monsoon so thick that it was hard to make out the faces of the audience on the other side of the stage. Every time the company broke into dance, great waves of water would leap from the stage.

But even though they were by now drenched from head to foot, the performers — from a remarkable touring company called Opera Anywhere — carried on just as though the sun were shining brightly, even when the stage directions forced them to kneel in puddles. Their enthusiasm infected the audience and, by the end of the show, we were all smiling and cheering through the pouring rain.

Thorington Theatre was built by a Suffolk-based couple, Mark and Lindy O’Hare, who made a fortune from a financial data business and last week joined the ranks of Britain’s billionaires when they sold their company for £2.55 billion.

Instead of spending their money on the usual grim superyacht, hideous penthouse or private jet, they bought a farm and turned a natural amphitheatre on their land — actually a crater made by German bombers in the war — into a 350-seat woodland theatre.

As I drove us back from the opera with the windscreen wipers on full blast, it occurred to me that perhaps Rishi and Keir Starmer were right all along and, for all its ups and downs, Britain really is the best country in the world.