Review: Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure (Summerhall, Edinburgh Festival)

Magne van den Berg’s quickfire play sees four friendships fracture in this production at the Edinburgh Fringe

Wendy Kweh as Louise
Wendy Kweh as Louise
(© Aly Wight)

Four friendships fracture in Magne van den Berg's quickfire play, and all because of an inadvertent, seemingly innocuous remark. When Jon tells Louise that he's leaving to start life anew elsewhere – or, rather, he's thinking about it, maybe, sometime, perhaps – his words ripple off into major ramifications.

Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure is a Chinese whisper of a play: an hour of 'he said, she said' that spins out of control. Louise mentions Jon's half-plan to her husband Johan, who passes word to Sjon in turn, but when the discussion gets back round to Jon, he denies it. So begins a ping-ponging four-way conversation, full of misconstrual and growing mistrust, that tears the four of them apart, perhaps irrevocably. It is the Butterfly Effect between the best of mates: a small flap that brings about a bitter rift.

It's deftly done, the stakes rising incrementally, and van den Berg's rhythmic script tracks the way even well-intentioned interventions do more damage than good. Within five minutes, one friendship's been ruptured and the rancour born out of that implicit rejection rebounds and reverberates. An affair is outed. A marriage falls apart. "Your love turns to hate very quickly," says Jon.

That the whole thing starts from a similar perceived slight – Jon's desire for something different, "to see somewhere else," is read by his mates as a rejection of them – is crucial. His personal decision contains an implicit snub and, as van den Berg shows, when spurned, we grow spiteful. She skewers the frailty of group dynamics at times of uncertainty.

Alice Mallin's minimalist production hinges on the complicity of its choreography, its physicality matching a simmering script that boils over. Her actors begin on an even keel, standing still in an orderly row to Max Pappenheim's soundtrack of modulated, mindful breathing exercises. The more their miscommunication spirals, the quicker they spin from one friend to the next, until Jennifer Jackson's choreography resembles a choppy, stormy sea of bodies. The breathing becomes breathless.

If it seems self-contained, Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure resonates strongly with the state of the world. Its chain reaction of whispers reflects the splintering of the wider public sphere. As nuanced statements ricochet around, you see how they simplify and distort en route, leading to offence and, so, retaliation. Cleverly, the script's repetition tips into information overload until we too lose sight of what was originally said. Truth itself starts to disintegrate.

Yet played in the microcosm of a friendship group, all that's handled with a real light touch as four fine actors key into the pleasing rhythms of Purni Morell's crisp, colloquial translation. Abhin Galeya suggests the slightest hint of a nasty streak beneath Jon's chilled-out exterior, while Wendy Kweh's Louise seizes up in the confusion and the statuesque Sam Callis remains both unaffected and uncomprehending. Mark Weinman adds a vital comic touch as Sjon, but this is a serious examination of the state we're in.

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