Blistering blue barnacles and thunderous typhoons, the Young Vic’s blissfully beautiful production of Herge's Adventures of Tintin is back! And just in time for Christmas, too. Rufus Norris has revived his Barbican bonanza of two years ago, bringing it to the Playhouse by the Embankment after a season at Watford Palace earlier this year and a nationwide tour.
On a stark plain stage, a boy sits with his dog. Matthew Parish’s eager-faced, ginger-quiffed Tintin lets little white Snowy bound into the wings – and return in the human roly-poly form of Miltos Yerolemou. For the next half-hour, the stage is flooded with amazing feats and images until we settle into the main story: Tintin’s rescue of his friend Chang (Nina Kwok) after an aeroplane crash in the Himalayas.
This is the centenary year of the Belgian artist Hergé (real name George Remi) whose two dozen cartoon stories are as fresh and delightful as the day they were drawn. The main source here is Tintin in Tibet, which allows Norris and his co-adaptor playwright David Greig to combine scenic exoticism with the sort of spiritual uplift suitable for this time of year.
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. The mission’s resolve is stiffened at the Buddhist monastery, where monks process in dignified fashion, fitted out in Joan Wadge’s eye-pleasing array of red robes.
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.
- Michael Coveney
NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from August 2007 and an earlier tour stop for this production.
Given his productions of Cabaret and Festen - hardly family fare – director Rufus Norris might seem an odd choice to bring Herge's quiffed do-gooder and his dog Snowy to life, but his imaginative, slightly surreal style works wonders, updating the material, yet retaining its classic, old-fashioned appeal.
Hergé's hero is well known for his boy's own adventures, and this show takes you on one hell of a journey. Based on the book Tintin in Tibet, the story follows Tintin and his beloved dog Snowy as they search for missing friend Chang, lost in a plane crash in the Himalayas. With icy conditions and a Yeti on the loose, time is running out, which equals thrills for the audience.
Norris’ fast-paced production has everything a family could want from a night out at the theatre; there’s wit in abundance, dazzling set pieces, including haunting wreckage of the plane, a larger-than-life abominable snowman, live music, game performers, scares and high drama. I was transfixed throughout; as was the entire audience on the night I attended.
Norris has managed to capture the essence of the Belgian comic strip, without updating it beyond recognition. The modern touches, such as the brilliant musical elements do not jar. In fact, they add so much to the original ingredients that newcomers will go home as happy as ardent fans.
Amongst the delightful cast of exuberant performers, Matthew Parish is the perfect title hero, without feeling the need to camp it up – he’s wonderfully real, when he could have so easily lapsed into cardboard cut-out mode. Stephen Finegold’s Captain Haddock is also superbly grouchy but loveable. Snowy is sometimes played by a real dog but is mainly personified by the marvellous Miltos Yerolemou, whose whisky-sozzled scene is priceless.
So many family productions play exclusively to the kids, ignoring the adults. David Greig and Norris have adapted this with such love and attention to detail that fans without children could go along and see this guilty pleasure, gaining just as much enjoyment as the ankle biters, themselves!
Ian MacNeil’s constantly changing set design brings added dimension as does Paul Arditti’s chilling sound effects. This fantastic production is the stuff that dreams are made of. Hergé himself would be proud. Tintin is terrific.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at The Lowry, Manchester)
NOTE: The following FIVE-STAR review dates from December 2005 and this production’s original run at the Barbican Theatre.
Christmas shows don't come much better than this. Breaking with traditional fare, though in keeping with the Young Vic's track record of spectacularly successful Christmas adaptations of children's stories from the Brothers Grimm to Skellig, Rufus Norris has scored another astounding coup with this first staging of Herge's popular cartoon character, Tintin.
Norris was the chap who enjoyed such success with the stage version of the Dogme movie, Festen. Here, in totally different circumstances, in an atmosphere of boy's own camaraderie and eccentricity, Norris has pulled off the difficult job of entertaining adults and their offspring equally over two captivating hours.
There can be few mediums more difficult to bring to the stage than cartoons. First off, how do you capture the visual fluidity of the drawings themselves? Then there's their particular spatial quality and the slightly starched visual humour? Norris solves the mystery with a brilliantly physicalised production, courtesy of Orlando Gough's superbly percussive, wide-ranging musical score and Toby Sedgwick's choreography that gives a new meaning to the word “flow” and that tells Tintin's story of his search for his air-crashed pal, Chang, in the snow-laden Himalayas with an irresistible combination of fun, invention, visual gags and genuine pathos.
But in truth, it's a triumph for all concerned, from Ian MacNeill's blend of cut-out backdrops and simple, primary coloured landscapes to Joan Wadge’s costumes which catch Herge's period down to the last white stocking red socks detail, and Rick Fisher's seductive lighting. David Greig's adaptation (with Norris) too is as easy on the ear as it is faithful to the original, a cunning blend of straight story-telling and gentle send-up.
Most of all, though, there's the company. In a year when there have never been so many shows demanding multi-diversity from actors as singers and musicians, Norris' cast skeddaddle around the vast Barbican stage as Buddhist monks, Alpine waiters, Sherpas and much more besides, playing anything from regular instruments to hotel-buzzers and vast Nepalese horns with aplomb and jaw-dropping precision.
Led by Russell Tovey (from The History Boys and His Dark Materials) as Great Heart (as the monks dub our hero), Simon Trinder as Tintin's faithful canine companion Snowy (alongside a real-life white Highland terrier Snowy called Chester), and Sam Cox's slightly over-loud Captain Haddock, such important messages as the importance of friendship and tolerance seldom come so unpretentiously or life-affirmingly.