Considering that he inspired the adventures of Indiana Jones, Tintin should do well under Steven Spielberg’s direction. Little is known as yet about the project; and I wonder whether Spielberg, preparing the boy reporter for his first Hollywood outing, is paying attention to the Young Vic production of Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, which I caught at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff prior to its return to London, where the production will soon reopen in the West End. What an inspired piece of pop culture this dramatization of Tintin in Tibet (1958-59) turned out to be.
I was not prepared to be charmed. I expected something along the lines of the previously reviewed Thirty-Nine Steps (which will soon open on Broadway); but, despite its wit, David Greig and Rufus Norris’s stage version was not so much tongue-in-cheek as it was true to and respectful toward its source without being slavish in its fidelity.
The psychedelic opening sequence had me worried a bit. Although entirely in keeping with Tintin in Tibet, which draws on surrealism to explore the dreams and visions of its central characters, the parading of famous Hergé figures who have no part in the story had something of a routinely choreographed theme park performance. From this costume ball, however, a number of strong characters soon emerged.
Matthew Parish was ideally cast in the title role, conveying both the vigor and vulnerability of our hero, who is driven to the point of madness and despair in his selfless yet lives-endangering quest to find and rescue a friend whom everyone assumes to have perished in a plane crash. Particularly haunting is a scene in which Tintin investigates the crash site and is faced with the ghosts of the dead passengers.
Miltos Yerolemou (previously hidden in the costume of the giant Yeti) was entirely believable as Snowy, the reporter’s four-legged companion. Their friendship, and indeed the very concept of friendship, is at the heart of Tintin in Tibet, a story with whose gentle lesson the creative team behind Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin did not try to tinker. Heartwarming and pulse-quickening, the result is energetic, charming, and altogether absorbing.
Unlike most of today’s Hollywood blockbusters, the stage play suggests as much as it shows, leaving the audience, assisted by ingenious props, to imagine themselves high in the Himalayas, a hidden lamasery, or the cave of a legendary monster. The props, in this case, are not a substitute for the imagination. They are a stimulant. Let’s hope that big screen, big budget special effects won’t do away with this give and take of make-believe . . .