Performed in a specially made box inspired by the darkened booths of Victorian peep shows, Peep presents one of three short plays about sex and eroticism, depending on the time of day you come to take a peek. The piece I watch through the two-way mirror of my private compartment is ‘Meat’ by Pamela Carter, in which a couple discuss the discovery of pornography in the man’s browsing history.
It’s an ingenious device, inverting the expectation of erotic content initially created by the pornographic howling and panting in our headphones. Instead our voyeurisms must be targeted at something genuinely intimate and embarrassingly private, as the characters are forced to reflect on their attitude towards relationship, gender and sexuality in proximity to the hall-of-mirrors exaggerations that pornography creates. The precise, forensic detail of the dialogue is matched by a white-walled, sterile, comfortable living space that could be any modern apartment.
There are several passages of blistering brilliance in Carter’s script, not least the anatomical, blazoned description of an individual porno whose imperfect innocence is mirrored by its aesthetic tone: ‘the light’s bright, really bright, she’s floating in it. Except there’s a sofa.’ Possession of the conversation switching sides like a tennis match. The man’s pornographic tastes are depicted as abnormal in comparison to the reality of the female body whilst the woman’s shyness and naivety about the topic are seen as equally unusual, creating a fragile balance that questions rather than declares.
Not all of the script’s observations live up to this and much of the early dialogue isn’t exactly revelatory: for example that men enjoy pornography whilst blinding themselves to many of its wider implications. And Carter can’t quite find the transcendental heights that writers like David Foster Wallace reach with the same subject matter. But there is a quiet brilliance to this smart and understated project that refuses to leave any topic in the dark.