Comprising mostly of intense physicality punctuated by bursts of evocative vocal harmonies, Company of Wolves’ new devised performance piece Invisible Empire promises juicy exploration of what it is that drives ordinary human beings to commit horrific acts of violence. Unfortunately however, often it feels that only Ewan Downie’s handily provided Director’s note seems to give any comprehension to the onstage activities.
Much of this has to do with repetitiveness. While the show starts and ends strongly — illustrating the suffocating isolation of modern living and the intoxicating comfort of violence, respectively — the middle section is numbingly samey. The performers alternately scramble over and dart away from each other, compulsively shifting chairs and screaming with emotion but eventually the raw violence of the piece (and the attention of the audience) is lost. The result is that the most interesting part of Wolves’ concept — the process that drives us from peaceful citizens to violent revolutionaries — remains as muddy at the end of the show as at the beginning.
Despite this, Invisible Empire does offer some strongly resonating individual moments. When two performers gingerly reach for and start away from the touch of each other’s hands, it’s a piercingly simple illustration of our simultaneous fear and longing for human connection. The warm communal sing-a-long that slowly disintegrates until the cast are scattered around the stage in separate but identical silent despair, is deeply familiar to anyone who’s ever sat in the fug of a morning commuter train. There’s the sense that with more work these seeds would sprout into something truly affecting but at the moment too much of the show rings hollowly with unconvincing outbursts of movement and emotion. The result is that Invisible Empire does more to alienate than illuminate.