Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

The thousand year-old tradition of water puppetry grew up in the rice paddies as the people would amuse themselves and each other whilst working in the fields. Now it is a sophisticated art form, demanding many skilled puppeteers and drawing much appreciation from the audience. There’s plenty of comedy, but little narrative: rather than relating an extended story, each short scene is a tiny, self-contained drama. The music, commentary and singing bring the whole thing to life!

The show started with the orchestra. Woosh! What animated, thrilling music, with its swift moving pulse and pentatonic patterns. Very different from the Khmer musicians we had heard both in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh: these guys were both consummate professionals and virtuosos. Do you remember the Indian dances we saw at a performance last year in New Delhi? The whole show that time was driven by an elderly man on the drums. So it is here, too. And this guy punctuates everything with his battery of percussion. The most memorable puppet scenes were the Dragon Dance (with four dragons dancing on the surface of the water); Fishing (just how did they get the fish puppet to jump onto the fisherman’s line?); the Phoenix Dance (here the two phoenixes engage in a stylish courtship leading to a large egg!); Harvest Festival (in which a graduate returns in a procession to his village); the Legend of the Restored Sword (King Le Loi triumphs over the Ming invaders and gives back the magic sword to a giant turtle living in Hoan Kiem Lake.)

As we left the theatre, thrilled and captivated by the wonderful performance (they travel all over the world giving shows!) we gazed over Hoan Kiem lake to see if the giant turtles were still there: nobody has seen one for four years…


  1. Suppose if a Vietnamise tourist came to the UK and saw Punch & Judy they would be impressed too... I wonder how they manage to get the sausage to move so quickly ?

    Caption Competeion everyone :
    These planes get wider n wider...

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. V at my kneez said jon

    this author has been removed by his wife. hick.