Billions of blue blistering barnacles, what have we here? Is that really the Abominable Snowman shyly stroking the trademark quiff of a famous comic-strip whizz-kid? You bet it is, and the Yeti's fingering of that iconic tuft is just one of many impish touches that make this stage version of Hergé's Tintin cartoons such a delight.
Not that the adaptors - the director Rufus Norris and playwright David Greig - binge on the in-jokes. This show will enchant everyone, from the most dogmatic Tintinologist to children meeting the Boy Wonder, Snowy the dog, and that alliteratively blustering alcoholic, Captain Haddock, for the first time.
We are swept to Tibet, where Russell Tovey's wonderfully endearing Tintin and team scale Himalayan peaks in search of his Chinese chum Chang, who is missing presumed dead in a plane crash. In a snazzily jazzy introductory dream sequence - where the Thomson Twins, Professor Calculus and the rest cavort, chorus-like, across our hero's consciousness - Tintin receives an appeal for help from Chang.
This extrasensory SOS makes him press on regardless, to the alarm of his companions whose own lives are at risk. "I was looking for a friend," Tintin explains to the Buddhist monk who finds him half-dead in the icy waste. "You must be very lonely," is the holy man's wry, wise reply - a response that encapsulates the spirit of the show in its mix of the humorous and heartfelt.
Covering the stage with an angularly undulating white floor, the Young Vic/ Barbican co-production is another design triumph for Ian MacNeil. His palette of colours is a radiant homage to Hergé, and something of the framed quality of the illustrator's visual world is evoked at times when we view proceedings through large apertures in the sliding blue screens.
But MacNeil and Rufus Norris have brilliantly reconceived the story in pure theatrical terms. There's a sequence where climbing up a cliff is mimed, with the actors grasping at fistfuls of air while dangling from ropes. There's also an eerie episode where Tintin ventures into the wrecked plane and, in an almost Beckett-like stroke, the beam of his torch reanimates the crash victims, who sing: "Save us, save us. Being dead is so cold..."
If the show has a star, it is Snowy, who metamorphoses from an adorable four-legged pet into the two-legged, even more adorable Simon Trinder, sporting white Tintin-imitating plus-fours, scarf and fluffy dyed barnet. One of our great physical clowns, Trinder is hilarious in a dazzlingly daft display of auto-fisticuffs as Snowy fights a losing battle with his canine conscience over whether to have a nip of Captain Haddock's signature whisky.
Thundering typhoons! TheYoung Vic has another Yuletide hit.
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