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The Playhouse Theatre is the venue for the brief return of the intrepid boy reporter and his dog Snowy in this lauded production, directed by Rufus Norris and adapted by David Greig from what is generally thought to be Hergé’s masterpiece, Tintin In Tibet. As a childhood Tintin lover bringing my eight year old, who is yet to read his adventures, I was hoping for big things. Would it be authentic enough for me? Would it attract a modern child?
It was lovely, done with beautiful clarity – the true ligne claire of Hergé (Georges Remi). The audience swelled with happiness and my daughter had a great time. Only my inner child had to be wrestled with, that child who had loved those adventures, those bright, graphic cells that felt like unraveling your own private film spool. But nobody should sing in Tintin, she whispered. Captain Haddock’s voice wasn’t like that at all, she said. No, no, no, Snowy was the wrong type of dog altogether, she shouted. Private worlds you have loved as a child can’t be conjured up again, especially when they are as precise as Hergé’s. There’s something wrong with how the actors look, my inner voice went on. Ah, yes, where were the black lines around their bodies?
In all honesty, no director could satisfy me. But Rufus Norris and, more especially, set director Ian MacNeil, have made a delightful purée of Tintin and Snowy’s search for the boy Chang in Tibet, dressed with a bouquet garni of all the important herbs: Captain Haddock, Bianca Castafiore, Professor Calculus, Thompson & Thomson. It is charming and funny, (though the racial stereotyping that went over my head in the days before pc is still present in the crazy natives of Kathmandu). But Hergé was never about depth of characterization. Everybody is a stereotype because this is a cartoon. Tintin is really only about la ligne, about a line going on an adventure, about those clear aquamarines and yellows and the masterly white on white of the Himalayas, all of which is captured beautifully here.
Matthew Parish is physically perfect as Tintin and you really cannot go wrong when you start the show cradling a real canine Snowy. A cunning swap for a toy which is then chucked offstage to reappear as Miltos Yerolemou in white knickerbockers and a curly white wig is the first of many simple, inventive ideas. Yerolemou makes a very funny dog, alert to everything around him, but not fully understanding anything as he sniffs around the stage: ‘Snow, stones, snow, snow’. He doesn’t have a lot to go on. An hilarious drunk scene and a genuinely touching moment with his injured master and I forgave him for being a scruffy, smelly Old English sheepdog and not the neat little Belgian dog he should have been.
Stephen Finegold’s Captain Haddock blistered his barnacles to perfection and did some great mime work, both in a walking scene that speeded up and slowed down like a silent film and as he hung on to the mountain by his fingertips, the search for Chang taking the friends higher and higher. I also liked Dai Tabuchi as Tharkey, their brave Sherpa guide, and Steven Lim as a levitating monk.
The music by Orlando Gough jollied things along, although I felt it extraneous to the proceedings. At 2 hours in length, the evening felt a little long for children and it did seem to me that those who laughed loudest and longest around us were all adults. Presumably their inner children were not quite as pernickety as mine.
Nonetheless, this is a charming show with some really beautiful visual effects. The yeti’s footprints in the snow, the crashed plane, the mountain range like sculpted sugar – all glow in the mind; perhaps this is because they were all taken directly from Hergé, from those bright, graphic windows that weren’t exactly cartoons, but little films that you could read all by yourself. Take the children, if you can get in – they get half price tickets for one thing – for it works well as a Christmas show. It also gets my Best Curtain Call by a Yeti award for 2007 and you wouldn’t want to miss that.
Claire Ingrams © 2007
Produced by The Young Vic, Sonia Friedman Productions, Mark Rubenstein, Michael Edwards & Carole Winter, Tulchin/Bartner Productions & WTTP in association with Watford Palace Theatre, Tintin opened at the Playhouse Theatre, London on 12-12-07 and continued until 12–01-08.
Originally published 23-12-07
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