There’s afolk verse in Vietnam that tells about a lazy guy who does not want to doanything but could not resist the attraction of a Cheo play, which has played avery important role in Vietnamese cultural life for a long time and isconsidered the oldest and most popular folk music performance in Vietnam.
When did theCheo appear?
Cheo isbelieved to have originated in the 11th century, and has its roots in villagefestivals in the Red River Delta.
After cropsharvest, the farmers hold the festivals which include a series of activitiessuch as plays, Cheo singing, etc. to exchange the information as well as tomake new relationships. Since then, many national Cheo repertoires which areconsidered treasures of the traditional stage are created, expamples are Truong Vien, Kim Nhan, Luu Binh – Duong Leand Quan Am Thi Kinh…
Like manyancient performance arts, Cheo is an oral one with stories composed byanonymous author-performers and orally “passed on” to fellow performers. Inthis folk art performance, stories which can be legends, poetry, history oreven daily life are the most important, “whenever there are stories, we haveCheo”.
Also,brought into the play are acrobatic scenes and magic. Cheo tells tales ofchiefs, heroes and lovely maidens and offers an eclectic mix of romance,tragedy and comedy. These stories are performed by folk songs with pantomime,instrumental music and dances, combined with instructive or interpretativesketches.
Beside thestories, the characters are the soul of a play. Like Tuong, Cheo Cheo buffoon
usesstandard stock characters -usually a hero, a heroine and a clown- who areinstantly recognizable to the audience. Cheo stories may sometimes be romanticor tragic but the clown or buffoon always comment on the action in an amusingor satirical way as well as to mock pompous, ridiculous or dishonestcharacters. Providing a link between the performers and the audience, he shootsshafts of satire at evil-doers, such as ignorant witchdoctors, greedylandlords, or arrogant mandarins. A couple of buffoons may appear on stage, forinstance, the master in a flowing gown and his servant in a short coat andcarrying a stick, each speaking the language and behaving in the ways of hisclass. The buffoon might perform right at the initial scene of a play, carryinga torch or a megaphone and provoking wild laughter of the audience. The clownspresent a comic portrayal of social life, with ridiculous, satirical words andgestures, and reduce the audience to tears of laughter.
A Cheo playcan not be complete without stage. The play could be put on the stage of alarge theatre, but also be performed successfully on one or two bed mats spreadin the middle of a communal house. The Cheo drum was traditionally used like achurch bell with magical sounds. Upon hearing, villagers cannot resist comingto see the play. The costumes, make-up and gestures are very simple and base oneach character of the play.
At present,Cheo is an integral part of Vietnamese theatre and attract not only people inthe countryside and in towns but the foreign spectators as well.