Vietnam National Puppet Theatre, The Soul of the Rice Fields

Review in Issue 10-2 | Summer 1998

Water puppetry is one of the longest surviving Vietnamese art forms. Developed by peasants over a thousand years ago, it was traditionally performed in the paddy fields at the end of the working day, when the Red River delta flooded its banks. This was light-hearted popular entertainment. Using brightly coloured puppets half submerged in water, shows depicted well-known myths and folk tales, or scenes from village life.

Today, performances are as enthusiastically received as ever. The paddy fields may have been replaced by constructed pools, and the peasants by professional puppeteers, but it’s still street entertainment, replete with controlled mayhem and pyrotechnics. To this day manipulation techniques remain largely unchanged. Puppeteers are hidden behind a screen that doubles as one side of a floating pagoda and use poles and strings to move the puppets. Exactly how this is done is a closely guarded secret, but the technique derives from fishing and farming practice.

In April the Vietnam National Puppet Theatre performed The Soul of the Rice Fields at Riverside Studios as part of the Festival of Vietnamese Culture. The show was a series of short, unrelated excerpts – an easy to follow ‘greatest hits’ of water puppetry. It was fun to watch, and frankly a relief on a wet and cold April evening. Of course, these excerpts offered scant chance to understand the resonance of these stories but in the end it didn’t seem to matter. The show transported the audience to another place and provided a magical sense of Vietnamese life.

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Apr 1998

This article in the magazine

Issue 10-2
p. 25