“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”

So proclaims Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

This comes within the famous ‘play-within-a-play’ scene, in which Hamlet brings together a group of actors who conspire to re-enact the murder of his father, the former King of Denmark.

Hamlet concocts a plan to use this ‘inspired by real events’ drama as a means to expose and assess the guilt of his uncle, the new king.

I challenge anyone who questions the relevance of Shakespeare’s work and the stories he told not to see parallels here with the horrendous stories of injustice caused at the hands of the Post Office, and the campaign to expose the corruption within that institution, which took on a new life recently as ITV aired its new drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

At the start of Shakespeare’s play it is announced that “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” and by the end Hamlet has rooted out and exposed this rot and those who caused it through their corruption. 

The consequences of Hamlet’s ruse are medieval in every sense and have gruesome outcomes for individual characters, but his plan to use a piece of art in this way worked.

The government’s response to the power of this recent ITV drama is profound in a similar way and it has seemingly helped catch their conscience.

Let’s hope the rot can be similarly rooted out.

While it is amazing that the ITV drama has at last brought justice, let’s just remember that justice could have been brought before. As far as I am aware, the programme has brought no new evidence. But like it did for Hamlet, the play worked in catching conscience.

Drama, whether on stage or screen, still has the ability to do that. This is the power of the artist and artistic expression and I salute every individual involved in telling the sub-postmasters’ story. They have done something utterly profound for these individuals.

They have also demonstrated a core purpose for all of us in the arts. To use our work to challenge and fight for change when we need to.

This is something I have endeavoured to do over my 20 years working in arts, culture and heritage, including programming Nick Wallis’ one-man show about the Post Office scandal several years ago at the Playhouse.

Despite often being a lone voice, and seeing others being silenced in fear of speaking out, I will never stop challenging and I’m even more inspired to do so now.

It is often hard to prove the wider impacts of storytelling through theatre. This is an incredible example that right now I would heed Suffolk County Councillors to also witness, as they consider cutting all of their arts budget. 

This short-sighted decision would compromise the future of many organisations in that county, including two regional powerhouses of impactful storytelling, the New Wolsey in Ipswich and the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds.  

There is still a lot more to come on understanding how the Post Office could have become so rotten and particularly the culpability of individuals. 

Its former CEO has rightly handed back a CBE and it amuses me to consider another line from that same scene in Hamlet, where Hamlet’s mother comments that the female character in the play-within-a-play is suspicious in overly-demonstrating her innocence.

“The lady protests too much, methinks,” feels pertinent here to players within this saga.

But I will conclude with a line from another Shakespeare play, this time The Merchant of Venice.

It gives me hope that there is a renewed purpose in the power of theatre, as a medium of protest and to bring about societal change: “In the end truth will out”.

Stephen Crocker is CEO and creative director of Norwich Theatre