Tintin is an unusual choice for a stage adaptation, especially in 2007. I always thought that Tintin had quite a specialist appeal – and was definitely a boy’s book. There’s also the prickly question of alleged racism in some of the books, or at least, an unashamedly colonialist vibe to the interactions between Tintin and the people he meets on his travels to foreign lands.
So I half expected this production to be a tongue-in-cheek treatment that keeps Herge’s old-school spirit at arms-length. Not so. This production is an irony-free zone. From the music to the racial stereotyping, to the almost complete absence of female characters, this is a production with its feet firmly planted in the first half of last century. The production’s only concession to modernity is to give new levels of psychological and emotional depth to the essentially bland character of Tintin.
The Tintin books also had a large cast of regular characters, and to make the story suitable for the stage, the Young Vic production company have stripped the cast down to the essentials – Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy the dog. Tintin, although seeming more stressed-out than I remember him being in the books, is good, and Captain Haddock seems to have stepped straight off the page – abusive, alcoholic, and mysterious – why does he keep hanging round Tintin? Snowy the dog, apart from in two very sweet moments at the beginning and end of the play, is represented by a tubby, slightly seedy middle-aged actor with a fluffy white wig. At first, this portrayal seems awkward, but you get used to it, and he actually provides some of the play’s best musical and comic moments, in scenes that explore Snowy’s only really distinctive character trait – indecision.
The plot is also kept simple, being based on Tintin in Tibet, a simple story of a mission to the Himalayas to rescue Tintin’s Chinese friend Chang, rather than the more complex, sometimes political plots of many of the other books. This plotline isn’t particularly strong, but it certainly held me as I watched the play, particularly during exciting scenes of mountain climbing and other perilous adventures.
It is the inventive way that the production depicts these adventures that really impresses. In one clever little scene, Snowy, drunk on Captain Haddock’s whisky, falls off a mountain precipice, and is left hanging on a ledge. Almost instantaneously, the cast shift their positions to change our perspective, and we are looking up towards the top of the cliff at Tintin and his friends looking over the edge, and down to Snowy, before a daring rescue is peformed.
You come away from this production feeling you’ve had real value for money – a lot of care, effort, and talent has been put into this production, and it shows.