The ADC Theatre Box Office will be closed throughout August and will reopen at 1pm on Monday 05 September 2022. Tickets can still be booked online at or The Administration Office will be closed until Monday 15 August 2022.



THE CALLIGRAPHER is a compelling student-written play based on the story of a Quran allegedly written in Saddam Hussein's blood. We spoke to the show's writer, ABRAHAM ALSALIHI, and the Director, LISE DELAMARRE, to find out more about this unique show.

What should an audience expect from The Calligrapher?

Something different to think about. The Blood Quran is such a fascinating and controversial artifact, as is the history it represents. A book which should not have been written, yet cannot be erased, and is instead buried in some basement where no one has to look at it. The Calligrapher unburies its story and raises the ethical, sometimes philosophical, questions it raises and will hopefully offer a different perspective than what a Cambridge audience would be used to. It’s a niche story, but one that represents the universal experience of legacy and we think you will be surprised by how much you find yourself relating to the Iraqi man who supposedly wrote a Quran in Saddam Hussein’s blood.

How have you found writing a play that combines fictional and real-life elements?

Really fun! This play has been a wonderful opportunity to share niche details that give a glimpse into the very real history of my nation. It’s been an exciting thought experiment to build a character around a real person, the actual calligrapher, and to fill in the gaps in his history, of which there are many. Naturally, it has proven challenging with source material being so sparse and the greatest difficulty for me has been preventing my own biases from influencing the way I tell a thus far untold story and misrepresenting true events. However, I think this uncertainty surrounding unreported history is very much representative of Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq and the play leans into that. The story of The Calligrapher is very much fiction based on speculation and it doesn’t really matter whether it is true or not: what it represents and the history on which it’s founded are real and the audience should get a taste of that. As it happens, we recently found the real calligrapher’s Instagram and laughed at all the similarities and differences between him and our calligrapher.

What is the role of gender in this play?

Gender is an important part of The Calligrapher, which displays how palpable patriarchy can be in Middle Eastern cultures, as well as Western ones, and how it permeates into the everyday lives of individuals. We’re curious to see to what extent an audience will sympathise with a protagonist who holds strong prejudices and to what extent they will sympathise with a culture that inadvertently harbours those views.

Our own expectations were subverted when Dounia stepped into the virtual audition for the female role of Q but we immediately saw her in the role of our male protagonist, Haytham. Masculinity is an important facet of Haytham’s character and to have him played by a woman we think will challenge stereotypical gender dynamics. We’re sure that her powerful and sensitive interpretation of the character will captivate the audience and immerse them in the world of The Calligrapher

Without spoiling too much, what is your favourite part of the show?

Artwork is an important part of the play: behind the scenes, we’re having so much fun looking at art, recreating pieces and painting frivolous calligraphy to build our set. And on stage, we’re all looking forward to seeing how the cast will embody their roles as they create new pieces on the fly every night! In general, we look forward to seeing how the cast will come into their roles on stage and how the audience will respond to our flawed and morally ambiguous characters - and whether that might change as the performances vary night by night.

The Calligrapher is performing at the Corpus Playroom between Tuesday 15 and Saturday 19 February at 7pm