The performance “To be or not to be” was staged on 15 November in the theatre “Menas” in Panevėžys. The performance was inspired by the classical play of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and as an analysis of the broken human soul. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, Shakespeare’s literature and plays were a way to send secret messages about Soviet society to theatre audiences.
During the Soviet era theatre was a powerful tool to circumnavigate the official censorship and for various directors was a venue where they were able to discuss the state of man’s soul in the conditions of unfreedom, touch the topics related to history and in between the lines express the criticism of existing social conditions. At that time theatre was like an island where one could breathe a little bit more freely. Lots of contemporary foreign drama authors were censored, and, therefore, many directors turned back to the classics to analyze the human condition of that time.
Lithuania has a history of staging the play “Hamlet”, the play that Stalin truly hated. Hamlet was staged only a few times between the period of interwar Lithuania (in Kaunas in 1932 and directed by Mikhail Chekhov), Soviet Lithuania (staged by Juozas Rudzinskas in 1959 and Irena Buciene in 1987), and re-born independent Lithuania after 1990 (“Hamlet” was staged by the famous directors Eimuntas Nekrosius and Oskaras Korsunovas).
The performance “To be or not to be” re-enacted the process of how a theater performance was being created in the past and what kind of secret messages it can convey, and the drama way theatre directors symbolically addressed forbidden issues.
The performance addressed Hamlet’s question “To be or not to be” in the era of authoritarian regimes and in the era of freedom and how this question changes over time, and is this question still relevant today to the youths of democracy born after 1989?
Staging “Hamlet” also provided an opportunity to discuss how gender roles are changing over time. Can an actress impersonate Hamlet if the main actor is gone missing? This question served as an inspiration to discuss gender stereotypes formed in Soviet times and the role of the young generation aiming to change them. During the Soviet times, the situation changed, and women have ascribed a lesser role in a male-dominated society. They were portrayed as a housewife whose main aim is to take care of the household.