WATER PUPET SHOW IN HANOI
Address: Thang Long Water Puppet Theater, 57B Dinh Tien Hoang Street, Hanoi
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
Water puppetry dates back about 1,000 years ago to the Ly Dynasty. The original water puppet shows were performed in rice paddies around the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam. At first, the water puppet shows were only held outdoors with the stage placed in a vast space under the sky. It is also said that the shows were not originally intended solely to entertain rice farmers but also as a way to keep mystical spirits amused so that they would not cause mischief.
The heart of the show hasn’t changed to this day, only the setting and the locations. The typical themes of 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.
The first modern water puppet shows were performed by Thang Long Theater artists in 1990. About 500 shows are performed in front of approximately 150,000 people every year. The theater has also brought water puppetry to more than 40 foreign countries through performance tours, or international cultural exchange programs and puppetry festivals.
WATER PUPPET SHOW
A show typically features 7-11 skilled 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 into the – as it were – stage to entertain their viewers.
Water puppets are made of lightweight wood such as figs and vines (which are readily available around the ponds) and painted with resinous paint. The puppeteers manipulate the puppets with wires and poles with simple or complex tables, pile systems, word rods and 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 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, agricultural production, animal husbandry, entertainment activities like wrestling and even the heroic examples of national heroes such as Ba Trung, Ba Trieu and Tran Hung Dao.
WHERE TO SEE THE SHOW IN HANOI
Near Hoan Kiem Lake, Thang Long Water Puppet Theater is a familiar address for those wanting to enjoy water puppet shows and discover the beauty of this unique Vietnamese traditional art.
Today’s performances usually include a number of short sketches rather than one long story, taking the audience on a journey through ancient village life, agricultural harvests and dances of mythical creatures. Most shows also feature the famous Legend of the Returned Sword of King Le, featuring Hoan Kiem Lake and the giant tortoise. The live music plays an integral part in the show with singers often shouting words of encouragement to the puppets.
The theater has four daily shows and an additional show during the winter months between October and April when Vietnam welcomes thousands of tourists. After the show, you can buy souvenir puppets and see if you can figure out how to make them dance!