Isango Portobello

Jump to navigation Jump to search

(Isango means “gateway” in Xhosa) A Cape Town based theatre and film production company formed and led by British producer Eric Abraham, director Mark Dornford-May and performer Pauline Malefane.


Has its roots in work done by director Mark Dornford-May when resident director at the Spier Amphitheatre near Stellenbosch, it originated from the UK-based Portobello Pictures, an independent film, television and theatre production company with its head office in London. In October 2006, the company opened an office in Cape Town and set up Isango Portobello ("Isango" meaning “gateway” in Xhosa) in collaboration with award-winning director Mark Dornford-May and South African opera star and music director Pauline Malefane, to produce theatre and film projects in South Africa.

In 2009 the Isango Portobello company came to an arrangement with the District Six Museum, to develop a theatre in the old Sacks Futeran building into a theatre which could serve as their home base. This was completed in 2010 and named The Fugard.


Eric Abraham was the only shareholder in the company, which formed part of a Danish mother-company. The directors were Abraham, Mark Dornford-May and Pauline Malefane. Having been both a long-term supporter of the company and lighting designer for all its productions to date and having retired from the Baxter Theatre in 2009, Mannie Manim joined the team on a full-time basis as Executive Director for The Fugard in January 2010. He was to work with Georgina Rae (General Manager) and the company in developing The Fugard and the local and international profile of the Isango Portobello Company. The rest of the Isango Portobello creative team was made up of co-music director Mandisi Dyantyis and Lungelo Ngamlana as choreographer and associate director. The Isango Portobello The company predominantly drew performers from across the townships surrounding the city. The company’s structure embraced artists at all stages of their creative development, allowing senior artists to lead and contribute towards the growth of rising talents. At its heart are the varied musical abilities of its group of performers.


The company’s work to date has centred on re-imagining classics from the Western theatre and opera canon, finding a new context for these stories within an African or township setting, and creating new work which is relevant to the heritage of the nation.

Opened 12 February 2010 with Isango Portobello's The Magic Flute – Impempe Yomlingo followed by an opening season of The Mysteries – Yiimimangaliso and a world premiere on March 19 of Athol Fugard’s new play, especially written for the opening, The Train Driver, directed by Fugard.

Company won the South African Arts and Culture Trust Award for Excellence in Opera, presented in Johannesburg in 2009.

Isango Portobello and The Fugard

In 2010 The Fugard theatre opened in Cape Town, heavily sponsored by Eric Abraham, and Isango Portobello were to use it as their home base.

By the end of 2010 however, they had announced that due to a range of artistic, financial and business differences, Abraham was threatening to withdraw his funding, the company was no longer to use The Fugard as its home base and Mannie Manim resigned from his position.

A new management, led by Daniel Galloway was installed in January 2011 and Abraham re-committed himself to funding, while the Isango Portobello Company announced that it would continue as an Article 21 company and be known as the Isango Ensemble.


Mariana Malan, Die Burger, 23 November, 2010 (p3)

For more information

See also the The Fugard website at

Return to

Return to South African Theatre Venues, Companies, Societies, etc

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page