We had heard that a Vietnamese Water Puppet Show was an absolute necessity to see when visiting Vietnam, and we were eager to find out if it held up to its “tour book” recommendation.
We arrived very early for the show (in other words…we missed the show we had wanted to see…and ended up killing time in the city until the later showing), and were able to purchase tickets in advance. Our friend, Vu, managed to book us front row seats…which was fantastic, considering it seemed like a first-come-first-serve setup!
The stage is literally a pool of water and the performers hide behind a screen holding long rods which support wooden lacquered puppets that “pop up” on the water stage. The puppets arms and mouths move, and the complexity of balancing a moving-parts puppet on a rod up to 3 feet long perplexes me!
The musicians sit to the right and left of the stage, playing traditional Vietnamese music in all of its Asian glory. It is absolutely fantastic for someone who loves some great Asian-style singing and plucking strings, drums, etc.
The Vietnamese water puppets shows are shown through Vietnam, and apparently the storyline is always the same. It is mostly a recollection of Vietnamese folklore—stories of daily life, harvest, fishing, and festivals. With the lyrics and dialogue all being in Vietnamese, the stories were a mystery to us…but that didn’t detract from our enjoyment one bit!
Some puppets depicted humans, animals helping to harvest fields, fish, dragons, ducks, etc. Some puppets sprayed water, others “smoked,” and a few even breathed fireworks!
At the end the show, the puppeteers emerged for a final bow—decked out in their waterproof suits, and all! I hope it is a craft they love and enjoy.
One thing is for sure…it brought back feelings of of pride in musical theater.
I grew up in the theater, and majored in theater performance in college. My interest in it waned after discovering that “theater culture” and its accompanying lifestyle doesn’t mesh well with my family values. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t still love the thrill of performing and sharing performance art with others. And it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the truly spectacular art of performance in all of its various styles throughout the world.
The Vietnamese water puppet show IS a show that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Vietnam. If you don’t enjoy it—it’s your own fault. It’s gorgeous, the craft is well-perfected, and the adults and kids both enjoyed it immensely (begging to see it again)!
Here’s a short video to get an idea of what water puppets look like (but I hope you get to see it in person someday)!