Saturday, November 27, 2010

The water puppet show

So, finally, we arrived at the puppet theatre. Ana and Crystal decided that they'd rather go shopping right outside the venue, and the rest of us had taken our seats. The place was packed! Tourists from different parts of the world were with us as we waited for the show to start. As the houselights dimmed, the voice over began. 

I was excited! Would handheld puppets come out? Were they anything similar to the Muppet Show's human-arm puppets? 

Nope, there were no residents of Sesame Street in sight. Water puppetry involved wooden puppets dancing on a pool of waist-deep water. They looked more like old-fashioned marionettes (sans the strings). The performance was sung and spoken in Vietnamese; in short, I did not understand any of the dialogue. However, the scenes were easy enough to decipher: they were about daily activities in rural Vietnam. Puppets depicted rice-planting, horse-racing, what looked like buffaloes playing. Then there was a wedding and coconut-picking. A dose of folklore was also added: amid what looked like clams, a dragon emerged at the end of the show. Frankly, I was amazed at how intricate the puppet designs were and was wondering at how the puppeteers avoided tangling all the poles and strings that they might have used in animating the puppets.

The orchestra consisted of traditional Vietnamese musical instruments. Singers were sitting close to the orchestra, singing operatically or speaking lines of dialogue. Lights were effectively used, drawing everyone's eyes up to the character beating the gong, to the water to see the horses jumping through fire, to stage right to focus on the monochord, and then back centre stage in time to see the fluorescent dragon soar in the pitch black set. All in all, these elements contributed to the ambiance: we were not in a modern theatre; we were in old Vietnam that night, out by the rice paddies, enjoying traditional entertainment. 

The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is found at 57B Dinh Tien Hoang St., Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi. More information can be found in: