Play review – Arabian Nights sets Bristol Old Vic aglow

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Arabian Nights Company_Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Bristol Old Vic has a tradition of staging festive productions that transport us to other worlds, with colour-infused sets and costumes, modern twists on familiar tales and a dash of humour to keep the audience enthralled.

Writer Sonali Bhattacharyya and director Blanche McIntyre have delivered in full with Arabian Nights, treating audiences to an imaginative production packed with characters designed to win hearts and jolt emotions.

With contemporary references and ironies sprinkled in, including mention of TikTok and a mobile phone as a gift for a girl who would prefer a bag of lentils, the central messages are the power of stories and of working together.

When Schere heroically takes the place of a neighbour to become the King’s next wife, she breaks a pattern the peevish king has been wedded to since his wife left – marrying a woman and then casting her into the palace dungeon the very next morning. At this point, we are told, around 100 ex-wives languish in the dungeons. Schere is determined no more women will be sacrificed to the King’s broken heart, and intends to keep the King’s attention with stories, with each nightly tale ending on a cliff-hanger.

Yasemin Özdemir as Schere is a force to be reckoned with, fearless and determined to help the King learn to be a better person. Sara Diab as Dina portrays Schere’s younger sister, deftly demonstrating her blossoming from a person who’s always believed they’re less than their sibling, and discovering her own courage.

As the King, Nicholas Karimi brings to the stage a character who is both comical and terrifying – basically a toddler who might have you thrown in the dungeon if you fail to serve him the dinner he demands.

As the King’s whims empty the sea and rob his people of food, hope begins to flourish in the form of candles glowing in the windows of parents in gratitude for their daughters who have not been summoned to marry the King thanks to Schere.

Yet when Schere is asked to make one final sacrifice, it’s more than she can bear.

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Nicholas Karimi as the King and Yasemin Özdemir as Schere with Hannah Sibai’s palace windows lit by Nao Nagai. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Nicholas Karimi as the King and Yasemin Özdemir as Schere with Hannah Sibai’s palace windows lit by Nao Nagai.

Hannah Sibai’s set is gloriously realised. Simple windows hanging in mid-air to represent the village, and an ornate trio of windows as the palace, with atmosphere painted with lighting from the talented Nao Nagai.

And, yes, Samuel Wilde’s puppets are magnificent – relying at times on the full eight-strong cast to work the horse in flight, an extraordinary serpent and the tentacles of a leviathan.

Arabian Nights production photos taken at Bristol Old Vic on 24th November 2023 in Bristol. Full company working the serpent.

Full company working Samuel Wilde’s serpent puppet.

Family sits at the heart of the tale, with Schere and Dina’s dad Maruf (Saikat Ahams) desperately trying to keep his daughters safe. We’re never told what happened to their mother, only that they miss her and set a place for her at meals. I thought she might appear in a moment of crisis, but in the end she is only a memory. The neighbours join in to help, however, and show that family can be more than biological.

One wonderful strand in the production is the discovery that the ex-wives are far from passively awaiting rescue, and are instead busily striving towards their own great escape.

It’s an apt reminder that while the stories we see ourselves represented in can empower us, we ultimately have the ability to write our own stories and be an active player in our own triumphant tales.

Arabian Nights is at Bristol Old Vic until 6th January 2024. Book ticket from £10 (plus concessions) here.


  • Saikat Ahams as Maruf
  • Ajjaz Awad as Gulab/Umm
  • Sara Diab as Dina
  • Roxy Faridany as Maryam
  • Nicholas Karimi as The King
  • Patrick Osborne as Jafar
  • Yasemin Özdemir as Schere
  • Arinder Sadhra as Rahiq/Zara

Everyone else

  • Writer Sonali Bhattacharyya
  • Director Blanche McIntyre
  • Designer Hannah Sibai
  • Lighting Designer Nao Nagai
  • Sound Designer & Composer Oğuz Kaplangı
  • Movement Director Aline David
  • Puppetry Designer and Consultant Samuel Wilde
  • Casting Director Christopher Worrall CDG
  • Associate Director Melina Namdar
  • Costume Supervisor Anna Dixon
  • Associate Puppetry Designer Hannah Southfield
  • Puppet Maker Izzy Bristow
  • Puppet Maker Bryony Harrison Pettit
  • Puppet Dresser Katy Hoste
  • Placement Maker Jessica Miller
  • Placement Maker Blue Harrison
  • Fight Director Annie Mackenzie

Have you watched, seen or read anything interesting? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Writing prompt – arch

House arched over by a rainbow in a blue sky by Judy Darley

Rain and sunshine = a November full of rainbows, often showy-offy double ones arching enormously across the sky.

Walking in Bristol’s Totterdown area, I can track them up hills and around corners. This one rose ahead of me for quarter of a mile, with a twin rainbow sharpening and fading as light particles danced with clouds.

Then I turned a corner and saw it had morphed into a single impressive arch engulfing a home. It feels like a great scene to spur a piece of exquisite magic realism.

Who would you populate this house with? How could such a close encounter with a rainbow affect them?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Published stories

View between two trees showing other trees
I relish writing and editing short stories and flash fiction, and have a self-imposed rule of submitting every month. If you write, I highly recommend this trick. It ensures that for every rejection, there are still a handful of tales out in the world that may yet be published, plus a gentle flurry of successes to bolster your writing mojo!

Here are some of my recent publications.

October 2023

Mycorrhiza – Flash Frontier GARDEN / MĀRA issue

A Still, Golden Light – The Simple Things Magazine issue 136

What Was Lost & How Insects Signal Their Love – Flash Boulevard

June 2023

Windowledge Archives – National Flash Fiction Day Flash Flood UK 2023

The Long Way Home – National Flash Fiction Day NZ Micro Madness

April 2023

This is Not a Story About Chickens – The Hooghly Review issue 1

February 2023

How Many is 80? Paragraph Planet (scroll to Feb 23rd)

January 2023

Life Hacks – 12 Fragile Things Not to Use as a Doorstop – Wensum Literary Magazine issue 1/Winter 2023

December 2022

Natural Miracles – Flash Frontier Wonder issue

October 2022

The Art of Pivot and Flit – Dually Noted, Brink Literacy Project

September 2022

The Bee Man’s Secret – Flash Fiction Festival Volume Five

August 2022

The Green-Gold of Wet Kelp – Fairlight Books

June 2022

The egret and I don’t belong here – The Phare Literary Magazine Summer 2022 issue

Tricks to uproot a guest who has outstayed their welcome – Tiny Molecules issue 13

After Dad Goes into Care – National Flash Fiction Day FlashFlood 2022

Bees Breathe Without Lungs – Honeyguide Magazine

How to Hook a Heart – And We Live Happily Ever After, National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2022

The Tempest Inside – Micro Madness

April 2022

Milk Tooth – Wyldblood Press

March 2022

Awkward Liaisons – Flash Fiction Festival Volume Four

Falling in a Forest Mslexia magazine issue 93

Oxblood – Flash Frontier

Fishing for Green and Blue – Retreat West 10th Birthday Anthology

December 2021

Reasons Your Kefir Might Sour – Litro Magazine Flash Friday

The Only Language He knows Now is Touch – Blink-Ink, Moonlight #46

The Finch in My Sister’s Hair – The Birdseed

The Sea Lives in Her Mum’s Head – Ellipsis Zine

November 2021

The Salt Sting of Learning When To Say No – Flash Frontier

September 2021

My Choice – Six Sentence Stories

Three Shades of Summer – Flash Fiction Magazine

Storm Beckoner – Bandit Fiction

June 2021

Leaf After Leaf – National Flash Fiction Day Write-In

The Hare I Miss – Thimble Literary Magazine

What’s That? – Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis

May 2021

Reaching (collaborate work – I wrote the first stanza) – 100 Words of Solitude

April 2021

Stretching Out – Hencroft

The Sideways House – Twin Pies Volume IV

March 2021

Unstill Life With Plums – The Pomegranate

Writing prompt – interloper

Spider at RWA by Judy Darley on porcelain sculpture The Legacy of Shadows by Juli Bharucha MA

One of my favourite art exhibitions, the Annual Open Exhibition, is currently on at the RWA, Bristol. I’ve already visited twice, and there are masses of sculptures, paintings, and other creations that could prompt works of fiction.

There is, however, an unexpected, uncredited act of performance art taking place within one of the display cases.

Inside a case with a gorgeously delicate-looking white porcelain sculpture by Juli Bharucha MA titled The Legacy of Shadows, I spotted a teeny spider. A week later I returned, and the spider waved at me shyly.

It seems quite happy in there on its porcelain web, but definitely trapped. I can’t help wondering if it is a stowaway, a prisoner, or a really passionate fine art fan.

Can you weave this into a fantastical tale?

I’ve let assistant curator Olive know and she’s promised to launch a tiny rescue mission…

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Become writer-in-residence for Quay Words

Belfast Docks2

Literature Works are seeking a writer-in-residence for Exeter Custom House for the calendar month of March 2024.

The deadline for applications is Sunday 3rd December.

To apply, you can be a writer, storyteller, spoken word artist or other wordsmith.

The selected writer will be engaged by Literature Works on a contractor/freelance basis as writer-in-residence for the equivalent of at least one day per week during that time.

If you’re chosen, you will have the opportunity to collaborate with a visiting international writer-in-residence Olive Olusegun during the period of the residency as part of a collaboration with the Poetry Africa festival in Durban, South Africa.

The season’s theme is Heritage, and Quay Words are interested in residency proposals that look to uncover hidden voices.

Find all the information on how to apply here.

Got a creative event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – very small chairs

I encountered these less-than half-sized chairs in a sort of storage room of a school that had given some of its spaces over to an art trail.

SmallChairs cr Judy Darley

Something about all those little seats waiting to be set down and put to use got my imagination whirring.

Imagine a school of the future where a population boom makes space so valuable child must sit in tiered rows at school. Who chooses who sets where? Is there an advantage to the comfort of ground level, or are the children set above, with better views and potentially boosted courage due to their daily climb, more likely to thrive?

What might they see from their perch?

Or perhaps these small chairs bring something else to mind. What can you weave from this sight?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

Enter Mslexia’s poetry competitions

Button on Kilve Beach cr Judy DarleyMslexia’s Women’s Poetry Competition and Pamphlet Competition are open for entries of poetry pamphlets and individual poems.

Both competitions have a closing date of 4th December 2023.

Mslexia Poetry Competition

You are invited to submit poems of any length, on any subject. Your £10 entry fee allows you to submit up to three poems.

The judge is Fiona Benson.

The winner of the single poem category will receive £2,000.

The second prize-winner gets £500 and the third prize-winner gets £250.

There’s also a special  Unpublished Poet Prize of £250, which will be awarded to the best poem by an unpublished poet.

The four winners, plus 16 additional finalists, will be published in Mslexia.

The winner and finalists will be announced on 1 March 2024.

Mslexia Pamphlet Competition

You’re invited to submit a collection of up to 20 poems, of up to 24 pages. To be eligible, you must never have had a full-length collection published previously.

The winner of the pamphlet category will receive prize £250, plus publication of the winning pamphlet by Bloodaxe Books. A selected poem from the winning pamphlet will be published in Mslexia.

The judge is Imtiaz Dharker.

The entry fee is £20.

The winner will be announced on 1 September 2024.

You can find full details of how to enter at

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – flap

Red Admiral by Judy Darley

I never expected to see a red admiral butterfly flapping around my neighbourhood on a chilly November day. This one is clearly aware of its naval namesake, as it’s perched on the boat motif that adorns Bristol wheelie bins.

And yes, it is the butterfly that’s upside-down, and not the photo or the bin.

It’s an odd image, though, isn’t it? There are so many directions you could take this prompt in, from a climate fiction tale on butterfly sightings in November, and what this bodes for our planet, or a fable about a red admiral butterfly meeting a naval admiral, or even, taking into account the butterfly’s topsy-turvy posture, a piece revelling in the natural world’s eccentrics. It’s up to you! Take this idea, and fly with it.

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.

How to keep writing – making sense of the mud

Victoria Park frost by Judy Darley

I’ve written articles for mindfulness and creativity magazines about how to stay motivated, and yet this year has been the first where I actually struggled with something like writer’s block myself. Life is a big, unwieldy and yet disproportionately short edifice, and nothing has made me more aware of this than losing my dad last year. My imagination has been narrower and darker than I’ve ever known it, which I think may be hormonal, or a symptom of life.

But, and here’s the sunshine, I’ve continued to write. Not all of it worth showing to anyone,  but an occasional scattering of words on a page or a screen that came from my brain to my fingertips in an order that made some kind of sense, even if not the glowing sensational sense I always secretly hope for.

More importantly, I’ve realised that that’s enough – for now, for this muddy, clarty year. (If you don’t know the word ‘clarty’, ask a northerner. Funnily enough, auto-correct wants to change it to ‘clarity’ which is almost the exact antithesis of the meaning).

I’ve realised that while I’ve been fretting about losing my flow, other things have been happening. I’ve been absorbing and thinking and mulling and above all, reflecting. Sometimes we need to hit pause and simply digest.

So if you’ve hit a similar wall or got stuck in some clarty mud, don’t fret. It’s all part of the process, and, hopefully, will pass.

In the meantime, treat yourself kindly, read widely, think deeply, and when the sun shines, walk out into it. Maybe some of that glow will rub off on you and your writing.

Writing prompt – debris

River mud and debris

Rivers carry all traces of our lives, from rubbish to sewage. Looking down on the debris covering the mud, I can’t help wondering how those things ended up there? Were they thrown or did they wash up? Have they been lurking beneath the silt for years and only just emerged? Who did they belong to?

There’s nearly always a bike or a shopping trolley.

What will future generations make of this disarray?

Can you turn this into a fable that suggests a less wasteful future?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please let me know by emailing judydarley (at) I’d love to know the creative direction you choose.