"This is difficult enough without drunken dogs!" exclaims our young reporter-hero in Rufus Norris and David Greig's delightful stage version of Herg's Adventures of Tintin. You can see Tintin's point. A pet canine that has been on the bottle would be just about the final straw if you were 3,000 feet above sea-level, deserted by your Sherpa guides, and with a monsoon brewing. Snowy, winningly portrayed here by a sniffing, snuffling, super-keen Miltos Yerolemou (kitted out with a white bubble-cut wig and clothes that are a pale, yet identical imitation of his master's) wrestles manfully (or dogfully) with his conscience over the temptation of the whisky.
Indeed, he fights himself physically to the ground in a farcical fury of auto-fisticuffs. (Captain Haddock's addiction to alliteration must be catching...) But Snowy can't resist the lure of becoming a dog with attitude: "I'm the mutt/ With the butt," he whoops in a number to a droll Madness-meets modern-jazz musical accompaniment composed by Orlando Gough. And Snowy is slow to appreciate the moral gravity of the situation. Matthew Parish's lovely, earnest Tintin is resolved to find his Chinese friend, Chang, who was on an aeroplane that crashed in the Himalayas. Despite bleak empirical evidence to the contrary, the boy reporter is convinced of his chum's survival because Chang appeared to him in a dream hence his determination to outface everything from freezing blizzards to the Yeti.
As I hope will be clear by now, this theatrical account of Herg's book Tintin in Tibet is an utterly charming mix of the idealistic and the idiotic, emotionally charged quest and fun with human (and canine) fallibility. Given how the story demonstrates that often the sensible course is the wrong one to take, it's wittily and exhilaratingly appropriate that the production itself is a quixotic, counter-intuitive venture. A much-loved cartoon strip is hard enough to convert into 3D live drama. But a strip that sends its characters up into the Himalayas and overdoses on the colour white? You'd have to be mad.
This Young Vic production, directed with huge imagination by Norris, began life on the main stage of the Barbican at Christmas in 2005. Revived for a national tour, it now lands in the more intimate surroundings of the Playhouse. There's still an epic quality (the climb up sheer icy cliffs is once again incisively mimed with the adventurers dangling in mid-air and clawing imaginary handholds in empty space) and Ian MacNeil's design feels, with its colours (dominated by white and a glorious International Klein blue) and framing flats, more than ever like a miracle of respect for the original drawings and a terrific feat of inspiration in its own right.
But the change of dimension liberates the delicious humour of the piece. The show is funnier at this address. I'd completely forgotten some of the heavenly routines, such as Tintin's tussle in Kathmandu with officialdom in the shape of the Department of Mountain Affairs a fusspot with a tray of buzzers and bells who obstructs folk from the back of a bike pedalled around by a long-suffering female sidekick. This sequence is worthy of the Marx Brothers.
Norris and Greig have cleverly beefed up the dream-elements sometimes for laughs (Stephen Finegold's endearingly forthright Captain Haddock has altitude-sickness hallucinations of Herg's characters popping up as a brass ensemble among the Himalayan peaks) and sometimes for tingling frissons of fear. The chassis of the wrecked aircraft sprouts through the snowy floor like the pincers of a vast prehistoric crab, and the touch of Tintin's torch briefly revives the dead passengers in a manner that may make adults think of Beckett's Play.
With the South African versions of A Christmas Carol and The Magic Flute back at base, and this revival playing away (so to speak), the Young Vic has scored a triumphant triple whammy this year. I don't have space to tell you about the Abominable Snowman go and see this show for yourself.
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