Herge's Adventures Of Tintin

Join Tintin, loyal dog Snowy and curmudgeonly Captain Haddock as they battle to rescue their friend Chang who is lost in a plane crash in the Himalayas.
Oxford Playhouse, Tue 14th - Sat 25th August, 2007.

August 14, 2007
Tintin, that peculiar little man-boy with the pointy blond quiff, is brought to life with real aplomb in this production at the Playhouse. It’s a very technically accomplished production, with ingenious stage-craft and classy jazz-tinged music. Although I really enjoyed it, it’s essentially a children’s production – if I was eleven, I imagine it would be the best thing I’d ever seen –EVER!

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.

August 14, 2007
The journey of Tintin, his dog Snowy and loyal companion Captain Haddock is followed across the Himalayas as the young reporter sets off to prove his friend Chang has survived a terrible airplane crash. Described as ‘a song dedicated to friendship’ the Young Vic’s production of the story of ‘Tintin in Tibet’ retains great integrity to the book whilst offering a cracking night of theatre for Tintinologists of all generations. The many layers of Ian Macneil’s set creates the image of a three dimensional cartoon page as characters move in straight lines across the stage. Highly memorable is the mountainous trek of the Sherpas slowly trudging with their heavy backpacks across Gosain Than massif and the rock climbing efforts of Captain Haddock as the main characters are suspended in the air. The movement direction of Toby Sedgwick shows inspiration from his training at Jacques Lecoq School and the characters are all the more clearly defined for this ‘everything moves’ approach. Snowy, the ‘mutt with the butt’, does not quit in his portrayal of the thought patterns of a dog especially debating whether he will drink Captain Haddock’s whisky, in a ‘I’m a good dog. I’m a bad dog.’ routine.

Amongst the ensemble there are characters like loyal lovable Snowy that children instantly warm to as well as characters that offer more food for thought for adults. The Tibetan monks who rescue the travellers after being hit by an avalanche offer many a pearl of wisdom. The plane crash scene itself offers a brief moment of sheer darkness that is contemplative. Unusually for one of Hergés Adventures of Tintin, there is no enemy in this tale but, ‘Oh Barnacles!’, there is a big hairy Yeti hiding in the mountains. Paul Arditti’s soundscape pitches the heavy breathing of a large creature hovering above the auditorium magnificently, which contrasts with the lighter echoes of our hero in the cavernous mountains. Tintin is rewarded for following his belief that Chang is alive, encouraged by his own dream sequences that flow psychadelically into the action and the vignettes of musical theatre which pop out to engage this enthralled audience of all ages. The story’s author Georges Remi (pen name Hergé), expresses an insightful choice of current affairs to present as the Tibetan culture he shares with his audience is one that is subject to suppression to this day. Rufus Norris’s direction and adaptation (along with David Greig) gives us a Tintin who freely shows his emotions and ‘Thundering typhoons!’ is all the more successful for it.
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