Long before the 10th century when performances are first mentioned in the record, ancient Viet tradition such as sung storytelling, shamanistic propitiation and call-and-response dialogue songs had influenced the development of hat cheo (popular theatre), a distinct theatrical art with clearly defined characterization and plot.
Traditionally performed in the Red River Delta villages during festivals and holidays, Cheo was set to popular northern folk tunes and featured songs and declamation written in popular language, riddled with proverbs and sayings. Cheo includes dancing, singing, music and literature from tales. Part of the abiding appeal of Cheo was that while it taught traditional values such as filial devotion, good morals, justice, benevolence, courage and courtesy, it was always essentially satirical and anti-establishment in nature. Cheo may move the spectators to tears or laughter identified as optimistic, smart, intelligent and mischievous with a clear sense of humanity. This form of art reflects the desire for happiness and a harmonized society where human rights are protected and the good will always wins the evil. Some of the most popular plays through generations are Quan Am Thi Kinh, Luu Binh Duong Le, Chu Mai Than and Kim Nham, etc. These plays are classified as precious treasures of the nation’s “popular theatre”.