Inside Job: PLA laser sniper

Frank Hersey tries laser-wielding at the People's Liberation Army Theatre

Mr Jia arms me with a laser pen as we enter the auditorium. Training is brief – 'point it, press the button' – so with less than half an hour before curtain up, I'm not sure if I'll be ready. But after a few practice shots at the Time Out photographer's mum (inset), who's pretending to film the show, I realise that, for once, I was born ready. I'm not a proactive team player in terms of showing the audience their seats. Instead, I eye them up for who looks like a potential offender. 'If they're just looking at their phones, that's okay. You don't need to point at them unless they do it for a really long time,' Mr Jia tells me, setting me up for a fall.

Suddenly, he spots a dad sitting his daughter on the edge of the stage for a photo. Pow! With one hand he fires his laser at the stage invaders, with the other he's activating his headset microphone to dispatch the stage-left usher to intercept. I see we'll be taking no prisoners.

The theatre is now full, the lights dim as an announcement comes on, clearly warning against photography and using phones in general as it is both 'distracting and dangerous'. Such comprehensive rules of engagement mean that what is to follow is fair game.

Performers appear on stage, followed immediately by mobile phones. I spot a lady in the Gods getting her first footage and I shoot that intellectual property-stealing bandit down good and proper. She surrenders and re-holsters her weapon. I look over to Mr Jia in the dark and he nods his approval.

The full cast is now on stage. It's Stomp and so it's immediately very visual. Mobile phones are cropping up everywhere and we get to our sniper shaming.

Lasered woman

Subtleties in our counterattack emerge. We're covering different quadrants and should only fire on offenders in our own. But you have a different angle on other people's quadrants and can see crimes that they can't. So I continue to shoot the whole theatre up (I only get one day, okay?).

'That’s enough,' Mr Jia tells me after a particularly sustained bout of cross-quadrant firing on one enemy cameraman, 'the usher in that sector will go over' and he walkie-talkies the command.

At any one point there are five or six phone screens lit up in our quadrant. The trick is to tell whether they're filming or just being annoying. Only if they persist in being tedious can they can be shot down. I err on the side of bombardment.

Mr Jia had told me beforehand, surprised at my question, that no, we cannot confiscate phones. 'If they keep doing it, we go over and tell them. If they carry on, we tell them we'll have to tell them to leave. They don't really understand intellectual property and think that because they've paid to see it, they can film it'.

Every now and again I let down my guard, distracted by the show. Then I snap back in, sometimes lashing out at false alarms. Everything shiny or moving becomes a target. A metallic chair arm, people swigging from water bottles. At one point I shoot myself in the eye.

Flashy lazer man

'Look, far fewer phones now compared to the beginning,' Mr Jia whispers around half an hour in. Then suddenly it's carnage. The next part of the show starts – the first big set piece. The five of us can barely
keep up.

Some miscreants are so persistent I begin to wish the lasers were the Star Trek kind that stun, as I get my own back on all audience offences I've suffered over the years.

'You're a good shot,' says Mr Jia. But to my continued vexation, the morons who have come to the theatre to simply carry on with their futile screen tapping are adjusting their behaviour, tilting their phones flat so it's clear they're not pointing them at the performance.

Just when everything is under control, a member of the cast announces that from that point on, people are allowed to film. And out come the phones, taunting me with what should be the greatest whacka-mole ever. I surrender my weapon to Mr Jia, to avoid any accidents.

Read more

  • 4 out of 5 stars
submit