Ha Noi, Vietnam - Water Puppets

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is a treat, with a performing arts form that is unique to Vietnam.  The theatre is located near the Hoan Kiem Lake, a gathering focal point for tai chi practitioners at dawn, strolling tourists and sitting locals in the afternoons and much vehicular traffic in the evenings.  Referred to as roi nuoc by the locals, water puppetry articulates themed plays symbolic of the tensions between  good and evil, illustrative of the history of the Viet peoples and demonstrative of the varied lifestyles and demographics in current day Vietnam.  The stage of water is usually four meters square and up to eight puppeteers are often involved in performances.

The ty ba, a light wood made instrument with four strings on its distinctive long neck, was played at our concert on a mid week evening, the final show of several during the day staged to packed audiences.  As evident in the accompanying photographs, this was not the only musical device or cultural accessory utilised.  The traditional singing of cheo ( a form of local opera) was pleasant, not jarring and the use of electronic screens with English subtitles is an excellent idea for the audience who come from diverse backgrounds.  Live music can be provided by an orchestra that uses cymbals, bamboo flutes, gongs,horns, wooden bells, the monochord and drums, all to back up the all important vocals.

Each performance was around an hour.   A captivating display of the puppets used can be viewed outside the auditorium.  The Thang Long troupe has performed around the world, including in Sydney, Australia. However, nothing beats enjoying the experience in its own locale.  The craft and art of puppets that dance on water originated in the Red River Delta in the northern part of Vietnam.  The wooden puppets are actually lacquered.


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