In the Limelight: South Africa’s Marlisa Doubell, leading a fabulously creative life in London- and planning the staging of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal for Cape Town 2022

During the pandemic, South African creatives have shown resilience and innovation in making work and finding new avenues of expression- often far from home. With live performance largely on hold, during lockdown, theatre and film maker, Marlisa Doubell shifted her energies. This year [2021], Doubell, the founder of Cape Town’s Sugar-daddy Theatre Company, moved with her family to London [envisaged to be for a period of five years], settled her son into secondary school, wrote a children’s book, made a short film and has been developing other projects. Before lockdown, Sugar-daddy secured the rights to stage Harold Pinter’s celebrated play in Cape Town, in 2021. That season was postponed because of Covid but the company is on track to present the play in late 2022. TheCapeRobyn caught up with Doubell who is loving it that theatres are back to operating in London, with full capacity of seats but windows are kept open for ventilation and it is freezing during the UK winter but no worries.

Reflecting on the past year- working from home and having family time

For the most part, Marlisa Doubell been stuck in extended lockdowns in the UK- isolated from your family in South Africa and from friends and colleagues in Europe. It hasn’t been an easy year for anyone but it has been particularly tough on those who are active in the live performance sector. Moving cities, added to the stress factor. Doubell: “Yes. It was obviously a tricky year, but I’m thankful for the time it gave us to settle here, as a family.  I appreciated the precious time I had to get creative and work from home. I got to write a children’s book and make a short film.”

Children’s book to focus on joyful things

As evidenced from previous interviews with Doubell and actors who have worked with her in Sugar-daddy, she finds solutions and this positivity led to her writing a children’s book- inspired by her yearning for her nieces who she was unable to see because of lockdown and travel bans. “Yes, I wrote a story for my three little nieces, following the long year of separation from them due to lockdowns and travel restrictions. My intention was to use the book, Ms Mol’s Favourite Things to help them focus on joyful things, during these times. I worked online, with illustrator, Champa Gunawardana. Initially it was available as an e-book on Kindle but my students and others asked for a physical book. I am pleased to announce that it’s now published and available in paperback. Order via & “

Ms Mol’s Favourite Thingschildren’s book by Marlisa Doubell, with illustrations by Champa Gunawardana

Link to Loot Link to amazon  

Back to Work – short film- pointers on getting back to the office

Doubell’s short film, Back to Work, images how a young workforce battles with in-person contact and re-adjusting to the office. She wrote and co-produced the film and she plays the boss – who may look like she has it all together but in her own office, she is frazzled.  One of the employees is wearing fluffy pyjamas under her work suit. It strikes a poignant chord right now. It is not easy to adjust in these strange days. How did this film come about? “I worked with Michael Bundred. We had worked together in the past, in Cape Town and he invited me to join his team at Glass Mountain Productions for the Rode Short Film Competition. We met on the set of American Monster and have worked on various commercial job, over the years. We wanted to make something light-hearted but relevant to now.” Link to the film:

Theatre scene in London 2021- engaging audiences- keeping it together

Theatre has been waking up in London – with Covid safety measures. The first theatre show that Doubell attended in London, after lockdown? Where – when? “I missed theatre terribly. Sadly it was one of the very last industries to bounce back in London. I’m happy to report that it finally has. I’ve attended many productions. The one that really stands out is, Anything Goes– the 1930s musical by Cole Porter staged at the Barbican which had rave reviews and was sold out. I literally cried. It was magnificent.”

Live performance in London – 2021- back to full capacity seating

Doubell says that in London, “they have done a jolly good job of learning to live with Covid and carry on…Sadly, there were some independent theatre companies and individual artists who did not reach the criteria for funding and struggled. It was a logistical nightmare for producers. Some productions ran two separate casts in case one was shut down. Refund policies became flexible. During the UK summer there were many outdoor productions. SA should definitely make use of some of our magnificent outdoor venues.” Regarding safety measures: “Initially theatres operated at half capacity and built up to full capacitygradually. At the bars and foyers people still use social distancing and when seated people use masks -as a guideline or personal choice. At most venues, tickets are generated digitally on phone. Payments are by card only. No cash. Cloakrooms are still closed -suits me because I’d freeze without my coat. They circulate fresh air from outside and not recycle it like before Covid.”

Involving theatre audiences in London – with feedback surveys

Many theatres in London, are sending out surveys after the show to ask a variety of questions for example, to see if you found the theatre hygienic and if you felt safe.” Doubell filled out a survey – and won tickets to a show. “I won a lucky draw at the Royal Court Theatre. The prize came with a cash prize of £100 pounds. That’s over R2 000. This was for a survey I participated in, following a play I attended, Seven Methods of Killing Kylie Jenner. It was a massive eye-opener. It was written by Jasmine Lee-Jones and looks at mental health issues around social media. The playwright wanted to explore the concept of cultural appropriation and the ownership of black bodies online and in real life. Theatre companies want our feedback so badly that they offer cash prizes. I try to participate whenever possible because it helps producers a lot.”

Sugar-daddy Theatre Company – staging work in the era of the pandemic

Sugar-daddy [established 2010] was on the boards for a decade – bringing independently staged productions to Cape Town – from the international stage and classics from South Africa – such as plays by Athol Fugard. The status update for Sugar-daddy? “Sugar-daddy is taking a hiatus, until live theatre becomes sustainable. We do still have an online presence managed by Lizanne Peters. Lizanne, successfully managed Sugar Slam, last year, an online monologue competition hosted by Sugar-daddy and judged independently by industry professionals [ ]”

Betrayal by Harold Pinter – scheduled for staging in late 2022 in Cape Town

Harold Pinter’s, Betrayal, [first staged, 1978] has been receiving huge press around the world- award nominations and tremendous acclaim on the West End and on Broadway for 2019 seasons –and then came the pandemic. It was hugely exciting when Sugar-daddy scheduled a staging in May 2020 in Cape Town. That season was postponed because of lockdowns. The status update of the Betrayal staging in Cape Town- contingent on the status of lockdown. Doubell: “Artscape has it on the calendar for October/November 2022. We are extremely thrilled and can’t wait to bring this infamous, classic play to Cape Town. These are still uncertain times, but we are hopeful that we’ll operate at full capacity by then. This is necessary- to be able to seat the venue – to capacity or near to that. Even though, as a company we endeavour to secure sponsorship, to assist with production costs, our cast works on an equal profit-share system. Grants and sponsorships are vulnerable at all times and during the pandemic, things got worse, for obvious reasons but we remain patient, positive, and passionate. Sugar-daddy has always been about going out and talking to partners –actively inviting them on board – and we will continue to do this. It is not every day that audiences get to see a play like, Betrayal and we hope that we get support to stage this brilliant work, which has been getting raves around the world.” 

*In 2020, Marlisa shared her Producer Tips. See below: Producer Tips – updated 2021. Related coverage on TheCapeRobyn:

Bringing audiences back into live performance: Marlisa Doubell took part in an audience online survey at The Royal Court Theatre in London. She won a cash prize. Supplied.

Tips for producing low budget productions – for independent theatre practitioners~ updated 2021 – by Marlisa Doubell of Sugar-daddy Theatre Company


Don’t be afraid or shy to ask for theatre investment. Ask for what you want directly. Be specific and transparent. Say what you need. Do not drop hints and hope for offers.  

~Theatre business plan~ 

Set up a meeting and make a professional proposal with a realistic budget plan. Be prepared to knock on a few doors before you find a sponsor that is a good fit for your company. Keep asking: What is the worst thing that can happen? They can say ‘no’ but they may say ‘yes’. Most actors know how to handle rejection when they don’t get cast in roles. The same goes with funding. Do not take it personally. And if the answer is ‘no’, be grateful for their time and advice given.  Learn from their feedback and keep going. Each time gets easier. Go in expecting success BUT be non-attached to the outcome.  

~Think beyond the industry~ 

One of the successes of Sugar-daddy has been in getting funders, outside of the theatre industry. Seek opportunities with local businesses outside of the theatre industry.  

~Freebies, trade exchanges and promotional opportunities~  

You don’t necessarily need a massive chunk of money. Break down everything on your budget plan and look at getting each individual item sponsored separately. For example, to acquire a venue or space for rehearsals, ask if a local business will loan you a canteen outside of work hours or a church hall etc Loan your items for set or props from local shops or schools. Ask for sponsorship from professional costume or film hire businesses etc. it’s worth asking. Purchase items in second hand shops. If you get stuff ‘for free’, give back by including logos to your social media platforms or offer free tickets to shows.  


Spend your money on marketing. Do not rely on word of mouth. Start advertising on social media at the very least three months before your opening night. Run a competition for free tickets to opening night. Invite reviewers to opening night or to a private rehearsal. Be sure to do your radio interviews a week before opening night. Every single person on the production team needs to be actively buzzing on their social media daily in the weeks running up to the play.   


You are only as good as your production team/cast and the people around you. Be sure to have everyone super focused and responsible for their task. Avoid negativity in the team in any way, shape or form. It’s unprofessional and unproductive. Aim to be supportive of each other and focused on the end goal, ie the success of the production. Welcome constructive feedback or ideas from each other. That’s how we learn and grow and get better.    

~Keep calm and carry on~

Things do go wrong and mistakes do happen. You can’t always control live theatre. That’s the nature of it. You can always fix things by keeping calm. No two shows are ever the same. This is the very beauty of it and thrill of it. There might be last minute load-shedding, sudden health issues with cast or audience members; front of house delays, technical issues…the list is endless.  Plan well, be prepared. Always expect a positive outcome but if it gets tricky or hairy, keep your wits about you and solve problems by keeping calm.  

~Communicate always with the audience and advise of changes~

Have a clear safety and refund policy in place. Communicate changes with audience members.     

Betrayal: The cast for Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, scheduled for staging by Sugar-daddy Theatre Company in October/November 2022, in Cape Town, at Artscape: Pierre Malherbe, Marlisa Doubell and Matt Newman.

✳ Featured image – South African creative Marlisa Doubell with her book for children, Ms Mol’s Favourite Things. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Images supplied.