Manipulate: La Conquête @ The Studio, Edinburgh

French company Compagnie à parodies and interrogates colonialism through genre-bending performance in La Conquête, part of this year's Manipulate Festival

Review by Andrea Cabrera Luna | 22 Feb 2024
  • La Conquête

Compagnie à’s La Conquête (The Conquest) is a superbly cathartic comedy mixing puppetry, clown, and object theatre that cleverly mocks the ubiquitous colonialist ideology and denial embedded in European culture. At the start of the show, Dorothée Saysombat and Sika Gblondoumé use multi-coloured plastic Native American toys and a cowboy holding (you guessed it) a gun to decolonise American history, behind a stage built with recycled coffee sacks, oil drums, and radios.

Using exaggeration and stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans – including a nonsense language involving patting a hand on their mouths – the actors expose how absurdly misconstrued occupied cultures are. 

This hilarious decolonial study parodies daily microaggressions, featuring Gblondoumé in Native American attire registering at their local library. When the librarian, engrossed in reading Tintin in the Congo, requests the spelling of their last name, they brace themselves. The moment is injected with xenophobic quips like: "It's a local library, not a worldwide one." The introduction of a French-sounding first name adds to the librarian's confusion, leaving her questioning her preconceived beliefs. At this glorious moment, Saysombat delights with one of the longest double takes you'll ever see. 

As the show progresses, the imagery becomes weirder and more surreal. Using magic, a female body pops up here and there, member by member. First an arm, then a leg, followed by a bum, and finally a belly with two wide open legs. A Tintin-looking puppet yells “Yee-haw!”, proceeding to dig in the earth between the legs. We are in climate crisis territory now. 

La Conquête stands out for its singular blend of visual storytelling, intelligent humour, surrealist imagery, and antiracist aesthetics. Leaving no aspect of colonialism unturned, the show exemplifies why dissenting voices are so vital. Festivals need to feature a greater representation of individuals from diverse ethnic backgrounds retelling (hi)stories, and Manipulate has successfully achieved this. /