Water Puppet Show

If the Japanese have their own unique Tokyo’s Robot Restaurant Show, in Vietnam, one of the most historically significant and now universally entertaining shows is the Water Puppet Show.

History

It is documented that ‘Water Puppetry’ dates back to about 1,000 years during the Ly Dynasty. The original water puppet shows were performed in actual rice paddies around the Red River Delta in North Vietnam. Indeed, in the North Delta, there are many ponds and lakes that have become extremely animated water puppetry shows. At first, the water puppet show was only outdoor with a combination of nature and human: the stage is attached in a vast space with the sky, clouds, winds, fire, smoke fog and hidden roofs with red curved tiles. It is also said that the shows were not originally meant just for the entertainment of the local rice farmers but also as a way to keep the spirits amused so that they would not cause mischief.

The ‘heart of the show’ hasn’t changed much today; only the setting and the locations. The typical themes that surround a water puppet show are still deeply rooted in rural Vietnamese traditions that include fishing, planting and harvesting of rice as well as village folklore.
First modern water puppet shows have been performed by Thang Long theater artists since 1990. About 500 shows are offered to approximately 150,000 audiences every year. Besides, the theater has brought water puppetry art to more than 40 foreign countries like Japan, France, America, Australia, Spain… through performance tours, or international cultural exchange program or puppetry festivals.

Water Puppet Show

To illustrate the skill levels involved here, you should know that the show typically features 7 to about 11 puppeteers working in harmony with one another to create magic on stage. These puppeteers train for at least three years before they get up on or in – as it were – stage to entertain their viewers.

Water puppets are shaped by lightweight wood such as figs, vines (which are readily available around the ponds) and painted with resinous paint (which is used for boat painting in the Northern Midlands). The remote control of puppets tangled by two types of machines: wire and pole with simple or complex tables, pile systems, small wires, soft wire, wood rods, bamboo poles.

The puppets perform classic Vietnamese folk tales and stories, and the performances are accompanied by traditional music. A Vietnamese orchestra plays traditional music using drums, wooden bells, horns, bamboo flutes and cymbals. There are also authentic Vietnamese operatic songs telling the story that is being acted out by the puppets. The shows recount Vietnamese folk tales and legends with topics including the celebration of the rice harvest depicted in a humorous fashion, which are various:

- The praises of the farm animals raising: fishing, weaving, rice husking, rice pounding…

- Activities such as wrestling, horse riding, swinging, climbing, lion climbing, lion danced, sword fighting.

- The heroic examples of national heroes such as Ba Trung, Ba Trieu, Tran Hung Dao...

- “Chèo” plays...

Chú Tễu (“chú” means uncle, man, boy or Mr. in Vietnamese) is a recurrent and the most notable character in water puppetry.

Where to See the Show in Hanoi

Nearby Hoan Kiem Lake, Thang Long Water Puppet Theater is a familiar address for those want to enjoy water puppet shows and discover the beauty of this unique Vietnam traditional art – a mysterious and perhaps, an unknown land to both domestic tourists and foreign ones.

Today’s performances usually include a number of short sketches rather than one long story, taking the audience on a journey of ancient village life, agricultural harvests and dances of mythical creatures. Most shows also feature the famous Legend of the Restored Sword of King Le which tells the tale of Hoan Kiem Lake and the giant tortoise. The live music plays an integral part of the show with singers often shouting words of encouragement to the puppets.
It has four daily shows and an additional show during the winter months between October and April when this part of the world welcomes thousands of tourists. After the show, you can buy souvenir puppets and see if you can figure out how they make them dance!

Address: 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hanoi

Show schedule & Tickets
Ticket: VND 60,000 – VND 100,000 ($3 – $5)
Opening Hours: Mondays – Saturdays: 3.00 pm; 4.10 pm; 5.20 pm ; 6.30 pm ; 8.00 pm & Sundays: 9.30 am
Duration: ~45 minutes

Video: Water Puppet Show

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