- History of Hanoi Water Puppet Show Theatre
- Cultural Significance of Puppetry
- Structure of Hanoi Water Puppet Show
- Other Puppetry Sub-Genres
- Thang Long Water Puppet Show Theatre in Hanoi
Water puppetry (Vietnamese spelling: múa rối nước) is a unique performance art that grew out of Vietnam’s agricultural heritage. For visitors in Hanoi, the water puppet show theatre is always one of the top highlights.
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (Nhà hát Múa rối Thăng Long) is one of the largest of its kind in Vietnam. Also, it has traveled to over 40 countries showcasing this unique performance art. On Tripadvisor, it was the 2020 Travelers’ Choice award winner — number one of 29 Concerts & Shows in Hanoi.
History of Hanoi Water Puppet Show Theatre
Puppetry is one of the oldest and most popular art forms. Traditional puppetry in Vietnam dates to the Hung Kings Period 2879 BC. It was common to festivals and people set up water puppet stages outdoors.
One of the first forms of puppetry in Vietnam was similar to Marionette. However, Vietnamese made the puppets from wood pieces of different shapes so that the joints could move.
Water puppetry can be traced to establishments that gathered around the Thang Long Capital City. Originally, the stage for water puppet shows were pavilions in the middle of a lake (thủy đình).
The capital was the center of the Northern Delta (đồng bằng Bắc Bộ) in Vietnam and the present-day Hanoi. Similar to many building names in Hanoi, Thang Long Ancient Capital is the inspiration for the name of the theater.
Under one manager ‘ông Trùm’, puppet group members (phường rối) usually came from the same village or pagoda. With their skills, they used puppetry to tell folk tales for ceremonies of worship, entertainment, and even satire.
Cultural Significance of Puppetry
Rice paddy fields are deeply woven into the fabric of Vietnamese culture. That is to say, Vietnamese people have been close to water since the beginning of their history. Hence the birth of water puppetry which maintains this sacred bond.
Puppetry in general really bloomed in northern Vietnam around the 11th – 12th centuries during the Ly – Tran Dynasties. However, it wasn’t only for royal entertainment. Water puppets were a staple in local festivals at temples and pagodas.
There were also large puppets to use in body puppetry or as mascots in parades similar to carnivals. After a victorious battle in the war, performances would usually include soldier puppets fighting.
Structure of Hanoi Water Puppet Show
Presently in Vietnam, there are 18 amateur water puppet groups and 5 professional theatres with their own teams. Nonetheless, their main gigs are still local festivals.
Topics for water puppetry vary from the daily lives of farmers, festive activities, to Vietnamese folk tales and literary works. In recent years, water puppetry has been incorporating modern themes from foreign literature. The use of more modern equipment has also led to innovations
The Water Puppets
Water puppets don’t have the most intricate carving nor coloring. They are really a simplified form of representation. It’s just enough for the audience to know what the subject is and what they’re doing.
However, the visual component of the water makes up for that lack of vividness. It also covers the controlling mechanism and the puppeteers are partly or sometimes fully submerged.
The controls are similar to rod puppetry where a puppet is shaped around a pivotal stick. Then, more metal rods are used to manipulate the limbs. What really separates the two is the floating and steering mechanism, and the techniques required.
The puppeteers usually have their heads above the water. Nonetheless, there are certain techniques that require them to fully submerge below the puppets. They then have to rely on muscle memory to control the puppets.
The Water Puppet Stage
The three components of the stage remain the same to this day. The performing space is four by four meters wide and one meter deep. The puppeteers also hide behind a black curtain. Then, separated from the stage is the audience space.
The performances use live Northern Vietnamese traditional music like ‘ca trù’ and ‘chèo’. The instrumentals set the ambiance and the vocals aid in telling the story which has little to no dialogue. They also use different types of firecrackers to provide sound and visual effects.
Other Puppetry Sub-Genres
Vietnam also has other sub-genres of puppetry that are indigenous developments or introduced from other countries. The common ones include hand puppets or glove puppets (rối tay) and pull string puppets (rối que and rối dây). Supermarionation (rối máy), shadow puppets (rối bóng), and mask puppets (rối mặt nạ) are popular as well.
Thang Long Water Puppet Show Theatre in Hanoi
- Location: View on Google Maps
- Shows’ schedule: 3 PM, 4:10 PM, 5:20 PM, 6:30 PM, and 8:00 PM.
The Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre has air-conditioning, 300 seats, and each show lasts around an hour. You can purchase an audio summary of the story but it’s not necessary.
As stated above, visitors don’t have to worry about the language barrier. This is because there’s hardly any dialogue and you can infer the story from the performance.
History of the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
The Thang Long Water Puppet Show started out as a theatre group of only 9 members in 1969. In the beginning, the theatre specialized in other sub-genres of puppetry and not water puppetry.
During the American War (1954 – 1975), these performances provided entertainment while promoting patriotism. After the war, the theatre geared towards pop-up stages and performed mythical tales appealing more to children.
In 1990, the theatre started focusing on water puppetry. The hope was to promote and preserve this unique and traditional performance art.
It started to gain huge popularity abroad and became one of Vietnam’s top puppet theatres. Nowadays, the theatre has professional personnel and a stage with modern equipment.
Visiting the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre
You can book tickets in advance by calling their number 024 38249494 – 024 38255450. On their official website, a booking interface is under development but you can use booking agencies like Viator and Klook.