La Conquête, The Studio, Review (Manipulate Festival)

Rating (out of 5)
La Conquête - Photo by Jef Rabillion
Show details
Compagnie à
Nicolas Alline (Director), Dorothée Saysombat (Director)

Sika Gblondoume (Various Roles), Dorothée Saysombat (Various Roles)
Running time

For many Scottish audiences, some hopefully familiar with both the UK and Scotland’s role in colonialism and slave trade, there are limitations in understanding the map beyond our own history – even for the role our closest neighbours and allies have had in a similar violation of the shape of the world. La Conquête offers audiences, in a poignant, occasionally humorous manner, an insight into the grotesque history of colonialism and a glimpse into the handling of the matter from another theatrical culture – including the uses of humour, object manipulation, and body artistry.

Performed by Dorothée Saysombat, co-creator of Compagnie à, La Conquête sees Saysombat, a performer and director originating from Laos and China, and Sika Gblondoume, a performer and singer originating from Benin amalgamate their lived experiences and weave this into the legacy of colonialism, speaking with resounding authority, if a touch overly drawn humour and routines through a variety of skits, puppetry demonstrations, and visual performance – complete with audio recordings of some of the less well-aged advertisements which boasted of the benefits of colonialism and occupation.

The Studio space, fitted with an enormously impressive marionette theatre with various windows, curtains and surprises, offers a glimpse of childhood innocence – one too many of us live within in our attitudes to colonialism. Co-director and set designer Nicolas Alline does a superb job in design work for a harkening to the “good old days” with its rich colours and patchwork nostalgia. Leaping to life, a toy box of trinkets and features tell multiple stories of occupation and violence with toy soldiers taking out small rubber indigenous populations, with electronic helicopters, diggers, even toy dynamite, and led by a small puppet who looks uncannily like a famous ginger-Belgian comic-strip.

The production is at its best when utilising language in the metaphorical, rather than literal – with comedic skits involving libraries and birth certificates hitting their point early and trailing a little too long. The nuances of the writing waiver occasionally, though given the subject matter and brutality of history – nuance is often best left at the door when communicating experiences.

The more influential moments of the production come in the form of the more elaborate, visual commentary to demonstrate how the traces and scars of colonial history remain – communicated harrowingly with a body–castelet: protrusions of limbs, chests, heads, and torsos all manipulated, suggestively violated, or built upon to convey the land, the culture, as a ‘body’ for exploitation, playgrounds, pillage, and abuse. Coupled with a relatively quick routine of the weekly shop, and the origins of our ‘favourite products’ leads to some strikingly powerful, and altogether unique utilisations of staging and storytelling.

The most important element of La Conquête comes from its very existence and structure; it isn’t a specific historical reconstruction or documentation. The use of various languages, cultures, and mechanics in storytelling make Compagnie à show a universal piece, not exclusively that of Europe (though the humour certainly is). This is dust and dirt thrown into the eyes of a global ignorance – not solely French, Scottish, British, or European – but of the continuing desire for conquest and submission that persists. 


Show Times: 9 February 2024 at 8pm and 10 February 2024 at 6pm.

Tickets: £16 (£13).

Suitability: 13+ Note - Contains graphic comedic depictions of violence and murder. Use of theatrical smoke.