Arlington
“There is nothing whatsoever soothing about “Arlington,” which jolts the system through some of the most sophisticated visual and sound effects on display in New York. Jamie Vartan is the designer here.”
New York Times  
“The set itself, designed by Jamie Vartan, is like an art installation. It depicts a waiting room of startling anonymity: three plastic chairs, a Swiss cheese plant, a ticket dispenser and a screen displaying illuminated numbers. We could be in a large hospital or an anteroom to hell. In fact, we are in one of the towers that dominate a nightmarish future city where the imprisoned Isla waits to learn her fate. Her only human contact is with a young man who sits in an adjacent control room operating the cameras that keep her under constant surveillance and listening to the stories she invents about the outside world......a new form of comprehensive, category-defying theatre.”
Guardian  ★★★★
“Walsh – he also directs – and the creative team combine stunning effects with playful physicality: think Christopher Nolan meets Charlie Chaplin. There are neat tricks in Jamie Vartan’s set, with the design team making Isla’s room come alive. Jack Phelan provides some of the most stirring video work that’s been seen on an Irish stage and Emma Martin’s choreography is visceral, with dancer Oona Doherty moving like someone trying desperately to shake off their captivity.
This is Walsh’s most overtly political play to date. There are shades of the recent refugee crisis in the sinister voice of Olwen Fouere and the mortifying conditions summed up in O’Conor’s struggle. But, hard as it is, this is not a world without compassion.
The Stage  ★★★★★
“Designer Jamie Vartan excels with a wonderful set that borders on being an installation. The wizard behind the curtain might be pulling the strings, but Vartan ensures it’s a digitised illusion being crafted. Cold, sterile, impersonal, with the help of video designer, Jack Phelan, it all suggests the digitisation of the human, with many scenes reminiscent of a video game. Adam Silverman’s lighting design reinforces this sense of the video game, with lights snapping on and off changing landscapes, sounds and scenes in a digital universe in which humans merely pass through. Composer Teho Teardo’s excellent score is complimented by a delicious soundtrack you just want to rush out and buy, featuring songs ranging from The Ramones to the Spice Girls. The end result is a technical masterclass, with “Arlington” delivering a technically tight and complex show, beautifully and brilliantly executed. You won’t always know where it’s going or taking you, but, like a kiss or a caress, it's best enjoyed when you just surrender to it. “Arlington” may be dark, thought provoking, swimming in loneliness and isolation, but there’s also joy to be had here in what is an utterly unforgettable experience.”
Arts Review  ★★★★
Ballyturk
“Ballyturk, in fact, seems to be a place constructed daily from the minds of two men, trapped together in a vast room without doors or windows, who perform the frantic and frazzled stories of a place they imagine beyond its walls.evidence of an outside world intrudes: chatty voices burble through a wall, a buzzing fly makes an entrance (Murphy’s character is agog, he has never seen one) and a potted flower mysteriously appears. Such signs of life are entrancing and perplexing. Yet the play is closer to a meditation on death; that undiscovered country. “I thought we knew everything there was to know,” says Murphy, stunned by the fly, and soon the boundaries of this tiny world are torn apart completely (in Jamie Vartan’s set, literally) with the arrival of a stranger, played by Olwen Fouéré, who steps carefully down a collapsed wall in her pencil skirt and heels, crouching low, like a preying animal.”
Irish Times  ★★★★
“With a tremendous roar of mangled strings, the back wall collapses, revealing the figure of Stephen Rea, smoking on a bank of grass with his back to the room – a truly stunning tableau. After a while, Rea departs, and just when it seems Walsh is going to let the play end without explaining anything, there’s a stark revelation that gives all the previous action a brilliant clarity. It’s the most dazzling moment in ‘Ballyturk’s constellation of set pieces.”
Time Out  ★★★★
“The curtain rises on two men, known solely as 1 (Cillian Murphy) and 2 (Mikel Murfi), who jointly inhabit a high-walled room complete with multiple cupboards, a cuckoo clock, but not a single window — no chance, therefore, of escape. Bound together like some modern-day version of Beckett’s tramps from “Waiting For Godot,” the duo at various points strip down to their underwear, dance and wreak verbal and visual havoc.”
International New York Times  
“There’s plenty of ballyhoo around Ballyturk. Written and directed by Enda Walsh, and with a cast comprising Cillian Murphy, Stephen Rea and Mikel Murfi, it is the hottest ticket at this year’s Galway international arts festival. And deservedly so, because it combines manic physical comedy with a meditation on the brevity of our earthly existence.”
Guardian  ★★★★
“There are scenes of manic physicality as well as slow-moving intensity, and Walsh (who directs) makes full use of the Lyttelton Theatre’s space. The production’s technical finesse is typified by Murfi who bounces around like a rubber ball yet even in his most animal moments moves with balletic precision.
For all the flashes of humour, Ballyturk is a bleak and exacting piece — abstract, at times cloyingly whimsical and pickled in its own absurdity.
But it’s stunningly performed, and Walsh’s writing has wild verve.
Evening Standard  ★★★★
David Glass Ensemble
“The Hansel Gretel Machine is loosely based on the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. On the bare bones of this structure are plastered layers of symbolism and imagery. It is a dream play, with all the floating, intangible metaphors and sensations of a nightmare.........It is said that we make all our important judgements of people on their appearance, not their words. The David Glass Ensemble's work plunges through this chink in the emotional armour to leave its spectators spiritually shot-blasted. The sense of searing loss which it leaves in the soul is beyond words...........It is a piece that works on levels too deep to identify or enumerate.This is the first production in an ambitious programme from the Ustinov's new associate director Fiona Clarke. If it is any way representative of what is to come, then cosy 'Prior to West End' Bath won't know what's hit it.”
Independent  ★★★★★
Don Giovanni
“Genuinely heart stopping.......simple but most effective......this was a vibrant and vastly enjoyable performance that made excellent use of its surroundings through simple yet imaginative lighting and staging effects. A vibrant sense of excitement pervaded the whole occasion”
Opera Now  
Grief is the Thing with Feathers
“The sparse set design gives the characters ample room to destroy the stage as they battle through their varying stages of grief. Crow and the father look straight at the audience frequently, the gaze of Crow being one you want to avert, while that of the grieving father prompts compassion.....a heart-wrenching insight into the impact of grief on children comes with their scroll through famous women on television who could perhaps replace their mother. They move on, as resilient children do, at one point remarking that they hope that, wherever she is, their mother likes them....this is a production that will remain with you long after the curtain call.”
Times  ★★★★★
“Jamie Vartan's set design, a sparsely furnished London flat, is littered with doors. However, Dad never gets to escape ; he remains ensnared in the interior spaces that Walsh's theatre navigates so well.....ultimately the power of Porter's original story is bettered by its theatrical rendering. Throughout the production, an aching odyssey of words is violently scratched and hurled bullet-like onto the fluid surface of this family home. Porter's words, far from being upstaged by the liveness of the piece, are imbibed by the production, adding a sentience and vitality to the space.”
Irish Times  ★★★★
“Indeed, if walls could talk they’d say do not miss “Grief is the Thing with Feathers,” for it is, without question, one the theatrical events of the year...................Set designer, Jamie Vartan juxtaposes a vast cold expanse, created from sheer size and scale, with small pockets of warmer family spaces, capturing both the cramped confines, and overwhelming void, both Boys and Dad inhabit without ever sacrificing immediacy and intimacy......Projection designer, Will Duke, invests the insurmountable, towering walls with living presences of pain, madness, and memory, as well as a superb series of crow images by Vartan, evoking Leonard Baskin’s drawings for Ted Hughes’s original Crow collection. . With “Grief is the Thing with Feathers,” Walsh has taken the award winning, debut novella of 2015 and turned it into one of the theatrical events of 2018. It doesn’t get much better than this.”
Arts Review  ★★★★★
“Walsh's concept forces a tide of rage on the audience, with passages and sentiments from the protagonist's half-finished study of the poet Ted Hughes (his obsession), as well as the sensations of his mentor/alter ego, Crow, scratched in giant lettering in video form in Jamie Vartan's extraordinary grief-pounding set, and highlighted by Teho Teardo's magically dissonant music score. It's an overwhelming assault on the senses, recognisable to anyone who has experienced seemingly unbearable grief, and forcing those who have not to contemplate its fearful depths.......
for all its firecracker theatricality, this show is the closest approximation I can think of to the actual experience of reading a novel. It represents on stage the expansive and capricious function of the reader's imagination....
Produced by Complicité and Wayward Productions, in association with Landmark Productions and the Galway International Arts Festival, this play represents a new way of putting a novel on stage, geared at an audience that is at home with technology. It is a show that pecks at grief with a carnivorous and merciless purpose, but in a thrilling and innovative way.
Irish Independent  ★★★★★
L’isola disabitata
“ The Linbury, exposed to its bare walls, is the scene of an environmental disaster. The sisters live in a post-apocalyptic world, inhabiting a desolate, ruined landscape so that one wonders how the flora and fauna survive which Silvia assures us sustain her. Gernando and Enrico arrive wearing suits designed to protect them against chemical and nuclear warfare, but disrobe on arrival on the island.”
Opera Britannia  ★★★★
“ The Linbury’s stage is laid bare – tabs removed and sightlines to the back and side walls and the set – with its large concrete circle dominating the stage, looked as if a bomb had hit it, with broken rocks strewn around the side. ...... If you can’t get to it (and, not surprisingly, it is sold out), hope that ROH2 plan an early revival. ”
WhatsOnStage  ★★★★★
La Wally
“ Opera Holland Park's terrific new production, unfussily directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans and designed by Jamie Vartan, solves the problem elegantly by avoiding naturalism: the Tirol is suggested by means of an off-white tarpaulin raised and lowered by ropes, and no attempt is made to present Tosca -like leaps into the abyss.This is Opera Holland Park at its best -a genuine revival and not just the exhumation of a corpse.Covent Garden should take it on now.”
Telegraph  
“Now there's a challenge to concentrate the mind of any opera designer, leave alone one, Jamie Vartan, working within Opera Holland Park's limited resources. But it's amazing what you can do with a succession of ropes and pulleys and one humungous tarpaulin. With a little stretching of the audience's collective imagination and some stage-hand muscle you can create peaks and ravines and even, during Catalani's beautiful final act prelude, have the entire mountain range rear up before us.”
Independent  
“ Jamie Vartan's extraordinary set – all ropes, pulleys and whirling white tarpaulin – allows Lloyd-Evans to link her private tragedy with the convulsions of nature in ways that are thrillingly effective.... Provocative stuff, hugely recommended.”
Guardian  ★★★★
Misterman
“ Designer Jamie Vartan’s bullish, physically overbearing set (a deserted warehouse) seems to emerge from the walls of the Black Box in perhaps one of the best uses of the space in this theatre’s history. Possibly a depiction of Thomas’ warped brain, vast steel joists tower over the audience as they grow from a stained concrete floor. It is a chamber for violence, confusion, histrionics and effects of almost Christopher Nolan-esque proportions.....this production of Misterman is a celebration of technical skill, luscious writing, extravagant acting and high production values. What are Arts Festivals good for? Finding ways to match-make an interesting script to a fine actor, aided by virtuosic technical crew. A summer blockbuster is born. It happens here. ”
Irish Theatre Magazine  
“ In Jamie Vartan’s looming and unsettling set, he appears to have customised a disused warehouse with props to see him through his story. On old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape-recorders, various voices and sound effects from his life pop up at the touch of a button.”
Financial Times  ★★★★
“The National’s Lyttelton stage is an immense performing area and Cillian Murphy isn’t the most physically imposing actor. Yet his bravura one-man turn in Enda Walsh’s odd and unsettling account of a disturbed Irish loner sees him fill the space with the wattage of a cast of dozens, as he runs and jumps about the imposing split-level set.
Evening Standard  ★★★★
“.....it is given a monumental staging. Jamie Vartan's exposed two-storey set is a vast warehouse strewn with tyres and cast-off furniture. Murphy tears through this bleak space, playing a cast of increasingly hostile small-town characters.”
Guardian  ★★★★
“ Jamie Vartan’s amazing design stretches back almost as far as the eye can see, with concrete platforms, piles of junk, countless reel-to-reel tape recorders and illuminated crucifixes........the idea of a one-man show on the vast Lyttelton stage might seem hubristic, but the sheer scale of this production plays a big part in the show’s often stunning impact. Thomas Magill, a small-town, mother-fixated man in his thirties with a big thing about God, has taken refuge in a vast, disused semi-derelict industrial space for reasons we don’t learn until the end of this 90-minute play.”
Telegraph  ★★★★
Shackleton
“Sligo’s Blue Raincoat Theatre Company have created a visually stunning show. Jamie Vartan’s design conjures icebergs and pack ice from sheets of white cloth. Barry McKinney’s lighting is superb. Joe Hunt’s sound and video creations are even better still. Puppet boats skim the water, buffeted by storms. Icy mountains are made out of sheets. Effective play with shadow imagery depicts Shackleton with his pipe and his gramophone. The vision rivals the skill behind big shows like War Horse or The Lion King; the scale is smaller, but the inventiveness is equally audacious.”
Irish Independent  
“In staging these events, director Niall Henry’s most daring move is to take this epic saga and make it small. Telling the story with miniature boats, some of which are animated by rod-puppetry, he finds a scale that — far from diminishing the experience of Shackleton and his cohorts — actually magnifies it in all its raw intensity.To this purpose, the miniatures and puppetry are wonderfully complemented by the use of light, sound, and a spare, but brilliantly shape-shifting, set.It does so by salvaging and staging various images and gestures: the silhouette of men at contemplation in a tent; the brittle human movements of a hike through freezing winds; the exhilarating swirls of a small boat in treacherous waters.”
Irish Examiner  ★★★★
The Last Hotel
“Twelve musicians of the Crash Ensemble are arranged under a steeply raked and elevated stage. Everything is exposed in this set, designed by Jamie Vartan, and there are no hidden wings for actors to emerge from, just general clutter, metal tray trolleys, piled chairs, tattered light shades, harsh strip lighting at the rear and the wooden back wall like a corridor in an anonymous hotel.Presented by Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera, this is a wonderful production; searing, powerful, funny, moving, mischievous, aphotic, devastating, beautiful. Life goes on - just not every life.'The Last Hotel' speaks to us about living, about breathing, about being. Powerful stuff.”
Irish Independent  
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The Second Violinist
“Following 2015’s The Last Hotel, The Second Violinist is Enda Walsh’s second opera, but here — through the brilliant use of set design and mixed media — he has bent the form to his will.....a stimulating and provocative thrill-ride.”
Irish Examiner  ★★★★★
“Jamie Vartan’s set...rises from an orchestra pit to an uneven scatter of domestic and urban spaces, climbing higher still into an overhead forest landscape.”
Irish Times  ★★★★
“Enda Walsh’s direction, along with Jamie Vartan’s exceptional set design, wonderfully conveys the erratic, multi-layered, instability of an artist’s mind set adrift, with something always happening everywhere, both where you look and off on the periphery of vision. Jack Phelan’s video design is equally impressive, grounding “The Second Violinist” firmly in the gameplay, text messaging, emoji, voicemail world of the twenty-first century, making it instantly recognisable and relatable, whilst also conjuring a multi-layered, unstable universe. Complex, funny, and deeply moving, “The Second Violinist” is unquestionably one of the best new operas you are likely to see this year.”
Arts Review  ★★★★★
“When Jamie Vartan’s vast set opens up to reveal a forest, lit in silhouette by Adam Silverman, its bare tree trunks form an eerie colonnade. A dark fairytale is suggested, with more than a hint of Bluebeard’s Castle, while Martin seeks solace in the music of Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo, whose life story is anything but consolatory.
From the exhilarating score, lyrical singing, and dazzlingly intricate design, this is a work that needs to be seen more than once in order to absorb the rich detail. Like its recurring filmed image of a murmuration of starlings, it soars.”
Guardian  ★★★★★
The Third Policeman
“ Marvelous...and it looked gorgeous.”
Critics choice - Irish Times  
“ Jamie Vartan’s striking stage design gives director Niall Henry a large open book (literally) from which he can build his layered production. Multiple entrances, exits and journeys across the stage, are fluidly choreographed with a slow expressionistic physicality.”
Irish Times  
Woyzeck in Winter
“Director Conall Morrison’s new play displays real chutzpah. Not only has Morrison assembled an outstanding cast of actor-singers, but his atmospheric set, designed by Jamie Vartan, is breathtaking: a Dickensian streetscape of more than 100 discarded pianos. The epic musical-theatre style is an intriguing fusion of Die Winterreise, Schubert’s song cycle of 1827, and Woyzeck, an unfinished play written in 1836 by Georg Büchner. The result is surprisingly coherent as the two masterpieces coincide on core points, with the mournful but beautiful score intensifying Büchner’s narrative.”
Sunday Times  
“The anguish and torment of Büchner’s tragedy and Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise combine to brilliant effect in a pioneering piece of music-theatre. I would say that Woyzeck has a jagged, fragmented quality that seems wholly modern while Schubert’s work embodies 19th-century German Romanticism but the juxtaposition is still intellectually and emotionally stimulating. That is evident from the start when Rosaleen Linehan emerges from a stage that is a mountainscape of battered pianos (there are 103 all told) in the character of Hurdy-Gurdy Man. The effect is overwhelmingly moving. Conor Linehan’s musical direction and Jamie Vartan’s design, in which derelict pianos evoke the unstrung nature of the hero, are all of a piece with the concept.”
Guardian  ★★★★
“There isn’t a moment when anything felt contrived, especially when measured against Jamie Vartan’s sensational set, a graveyard of ruined, mute pianos piled randomly into a tottering heap that sums up spiritual desolation. Fragments of songs, often just their accompaniments, and complete settings means that the music is hardly ever silent, and, like a soundtrack, triggers an astonishing range of resonances to pile layers of meaning onto the words of the play.”
Classical Source  ★★★★★
“Against the site-unspecific backdrop of a tumbledown stack of junk artfully designed by Jamie Vartan, the familiar story of the mercilessly bullied squaddie who ends up murdering his common-law wife Marie unfolds with fluent clarity.”
Telegraph  ★★★★
“Jamie Vartan’s set of a towering mountain of battered and broken pianos is nothing less than inspired.”
Sunday Independent  
“The work has been lovingly created for Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival with excellence in mind. A cast featuring many of Ireland’s finest combines with pianist Conor Linehan on a set that comprises keyboard instruments in varying stages of symbolic decay, in addition to his immaculately maintained and played Steinway.”
British Theatre Guide  
“A dazzling design by Jamie Vartan dominates this big show, with a massive installation of wrecked pianos creating a multi-tiered playing space, full of idiosyncratic possibility. There is one functioning piano, and musical director Conor Linehan plays it live throughout.”
Irish Independent