Water puppetry is a traditional art form in the northern part of Vietnam, particularly in the Red River delta for over 8 hundreds years. Now water puppet show is one of the must see for foreign tourists when visiting Hanoi. So how a water puppet show goes? What’s shown and what does it look like?
There are two main public water puppet theater in Hanoi:
1. Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
57B Dinh Tien Hoang, Hoan Kiem
5 shows a day: 15h | 16h10 | 17h20 | 18h30 | 20h | 21h15
Ticket price: 100.000 VND, 60.000 VND
Map to Thang Long Water Puppet Theater
2. Lotus Water Puppet Theater
16 Le Thai To, Hoan Kiem
2 shows a day: 17h | 18h30
Ticket price: 100.000VND, 60.000 VND
Map to Lotus Water Puppet Theater
If you want something private and unique, you can visit the home studio of a water puppet artist whose family has a tradition of water puppetry for 4 generations: Phan Thanh Liem. I already wrote an entry about him here.
Like the name says. The theater is built over a small in door pond (with air conditioning for the hot summer) in which a temple – a wood and bamboo collapsible structure comprising the puppeteer’s box and a stage where the puppets move over the water. The puppeteer’ box has a painted canvas roof with curve ends. From there, the puppet artists half deep in water and hidden behind a bamboo curtain, control their puppets via a system of levers, rods and hinges. The scene is the expanse of water in front of the puppeteers’ box. The puppeteers’ box is separated from it by a bamboo blind so audience cannot see the movements and secrets behind.
Water temple- pavillion on water
The show used to begin with some firecrackers which immediately created a festival atmosphere. But since the Lunar Year of 1995, firecrackers have been banned all over Vietnam for accidents it may cause. Therefore nowadays water puppet show don’t have firecrackers to start with anymore.
The show is heralded by a series of drum rolls and the playing of a band composed mostly of percussion instruments, which best accompany the movements and gestures of the puppets. Among the sound of drums, rattles, buffalo horn, bamboo castanets there magically two rows of flags lining the stage on the two sides of the pond.
Puppeteers hide behind the bamboo curtain
The characters of the play enter and exit through the bamboo blind, gracefully gliding on the water. Two choirs, one male one female, exchanging questions and answers in a way of a commentary. The leading role is played by a puppet named “Tễu” ( the M.C), a sturdy countryside boy who presents the program and his view of village affairs. A buffoon who criticizes other characters, laughs at them, gives them advises, makes people laugh. Full of optimism and common sense, he may shoot with impunity shafts of satire at member of the feudal hierarchy.
The Fairies dancing to the sound of flutes
Many numbers cater to popular imagination: fairies dance to the sound of flutes, dragons spitting flames and water, phoenixes lovingly gliding in pair…However, scenes of daily life form the charming substance of this country performing art: buffalo fight, fishing( fish jumping out of nets and upsetting the little boat of a fisherman and his wife), a young woman taking a rest from her weaving-loom to suckle her baby and lull him to sleep singing a lullaby, a fox climbing a tree to catch a bird or stealing a duck from an elderly couple, a mandarin getting down from his palanquin and leaping on a back of a horse…
Dragon and phoenix dance
All those plays are assisted by a live traditional music band and live singing voices. The band is located on the two sides of the pond so audience can also watch them play. The scripts are in Vietnamese but before every small play there is an English dubbing to explain what is going on. Before you enter the theater make sure to grab the program written in your language to know what’s shown.
Live music band with traditional music instruments
By Pham Tuyen