Following its Barbican run two years ago and a regional tour this autumn, Rufus Norris’ critically acclaimed adaptation of Hergé’s Tintin has transferred to the West End, opening on Wednesday night (12 December 2007, previews from 6 December) for a six-week Christmas season at the Playhouse Theatre (See News, 22 Oct 2007).
One of the big hits from the Young Vic’s Walkabout season during the two-year refurbishment of the theatre’s Southwark base (See News, May 2005), Tintin premiered at the Barbican Theatre in December 2005. It’s adapted for the stage by Norris and Scottish playwright David Greig. The title character is played by Matthew Parish.
Tintin, the boy reporter, began his first adventure in 1929 in the Belgian comic strip Le Petit Vingtieme. Created by illustrator Georges Remi, aka Hergé, Tintin became an icon with his trademark crested quiff, plus-four trousers and his faithful dog Snowy. Each year more than three million copies of Tintin’s adventures are sold across 50 countries in 40 different languages.
This classic tale of “friendship and courage” directed on stage “with huge imagination” by Rufus Norris was received with a moderately mixed bag of reviews from the first night critics. But the “beautifully designed” and “stunning” sets by Ian MacNeil impressed, along with “excellent” songs and music by Orlando Gough. Supporting the creative team’s efforts were the leads: Matthew Parish’s “lovely, earnest” Tintin containing “exactly the right freshness and spirit”, and Stephen Finegold's “likeable” and “superb” Captain Haddock. While some critics didn’t quite feel the “tremendous heart” of the show anew, they agreed that Tintin certainly makes for a “lovely, stylish” Christmas treat.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (four stars) - “As in The Wizard of Oz, it’s all about friendship and courage. Tintin and Snowy are joined by bearded, blustery Captain Haddock (Stephen Finegold), whose whisky bottle is always conveniently to hand and nearly lands Snowy in trouble; after a gulp or two, the mutt slips off the mountain edge, the sheer drop becomes the horizontal floor, and he slithers towards us ... The show is full of such clever coups. An entire flight journey is represented by actors shuddering on the plane stairway. In the Himalayas, the search party is suspended in ropes above Ian MacNeil’s stunning three-dimensional mountain range, magically lit by Rick Fisher, while Haddock reminisces about home in Marlinspike in one of Orlando Gough’s splendidly plangent and evocative songs … And the shadow of the Yeti, the not-so-abominable snowman, looms over the landscape and threatens the rescue operation in the nicest possible way. With Haddock complaining about weather conditions – ‘It’s as parky as a penguin’s armpit this morning’ – and Snowy leaping about like a demented dervish, the adventure continues with plenty of physical diversion, and the occasional appearance of a heart-warming street band. Lovely, stylish stuff.”
Lyn Gardner in the Guardian (three stars) – “In this age of special effects, the yeti is a major disappointment, and so is this production: visually, it is a show-off, but it is seldom emotionally satisfying. I often admired it, particularly the way Norris marries physical prowess with the visual flair of Ian McNeil's icy pastel-coloured design, which makes you feel as if you could reach out and touch the powdery snow on the mountains. But I never really warmed to it. If I was an eight-year-old boy, I might feel differently, but I couldn't ignore the fact that the stage adaptation never transcends the episodic nature of the comic strip, and the characters are never fully developed. Matthew Parish's knickerbockered Tintin is just too bland and tediously good. Captain Haddock says ‘blistering barnacles’ once too often, and Miltos Yerolemou's Snowy is never as cute and lovable as the real-life dog who briefly appears. The only moment when I felt a tingle was when Tintin climbs into the skeleton of the crashed plane and finds that the dead can speak. Orlando Gough's music has just the right touch of spookiness. Everyone works hard and the monks provide comic value, but the overall impression is of a show that, though hugely competent, lacks a heart.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent - “Matthew Parish's lovely, earnest Tintin is resolved to find his Chinese friend Chang, who was on an aeroplane that crashed in the Himalayas … This Young Vic production, directed with huge imagination by Norris, began life on the main stage of the Barbican at Christmas in 2005. Revived for a national tour, it now lands in the more intimate surroundings of the Playhouse. There's still an epic quality (the climb up sheer icy cliffs is once again incisively mimed with the adventurers dangling in mid-air and clawing imaginary handholds in empty space) and Ian MacNeil's design feels, with its colours (dominated by white and a glorious International Klein blue) and framing flats, more than ever like a miracle of respect for the original drawings and a terrific feat of inspiration in its own right. But the change of dimension liberates the delicious humour of the piece. The show is funnier at this address … Norris and Greig have cleverly beefed up the dream-elements – sometimes for laughs … and sometimes for tingling frissons of fear … I don't have space to tell you about the Abominable Snowman – go and see this show for yourself.”
Kieron Quirke in the Evening Standard (two stars) – “Blistering barnacles! This is a disappointment. Tintin sounded like Christmas show heaven. What we have here though is a franchise adapted to death, in a show so concerned with things theatrical that it forgets the audience have come to see a story. Attendant children get a masterclass in contemporary theatre practice: physical theatre, actor-musicians and lots of playful clowning with a distinctly Gallic flavour … Matthew Parish's Tintin sports the requisite quiff and boyish voice but, given nothing to do but express his desire to find Chang, seems bland. Stephen Finegold's Captain Haddock is a likeable old buffer, and looks the part. But his legendary anger seems feigned for the kids. Snowy is a man who acts like Tony Slattery. The plot is sparse and filled in with gumph. The action scenes - on wires and so forth - are spectacular. The clowning is mostly excruciating: numerous scenes featuring comedy Asians accompanying large gestures with gobbledegook. There are also a lot of surreal dream sequences - pretty self-indulgent - showing us characters that we could have seen in action had they chosen a better story. For this show was flawed at conception.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph “A small child sitting behind me was copiously sick during the press performance of Tintin - but while some Christmas shows utterly deserve such a response, this is not one of them … Indeed it is even better than I remembered - gripping, funny, and blessed with tremendous heart … Once Rufus Norris kicks into the plot, his story-telling proves addictively absorbing, with more comedy than I remember the first time around but no loss of pathos or tension … The show has been beautifully designed by Ian MacNeil, ranging from the bustle of Kathmandu to the icy wastes of the Himalayas with an elegance and economy that matches Herge's own drawings … Matthew Parish plays our bequiffed hero with exactly the right freshness and spirit, but there is also an aching sense of loss in his performance that deepens the show. Stephen Finegold is superb as the growling, grumbling, whisky-swigging Captain Haddock … while Miltos Yerolemou takes us hilariously inside the mind of Snowy the dog. With excellent music and songs by Orlando Gough and something both serious and spiritual about the portrayal of Buddhist monks and the narrative's sense of loss and recovery, this is a show that proves unexpectedly inspirational as well as tremendous fun.”
- by Tom Atkins