Announced as “a mind-reading show based on the true story of the Cold War’s psychic spies”, The Psychic Project at the Vaults Theatre draws on the genuine story of Stargate, a secret unit established by the American Government’s Defense Intelligence Agency and a private contractor.
Stargate was created to investigate and exploit the use of psychic phenomena in military and domestic intelligence gathering. It’s a story that certainly makes a fascinating backdrop and the magician David Narayan makes good use of recordings and images from the project’s archive to create atmosphere and dress up what would otherwise be a fairly run-of-the-mill series of tricks, stretched out here almost to breaking point to bring the show in at just under two hours.
Narayan is a charismatic performer but by promising “a show that’s as disturbing as it is astonishing” he sets the bar pretty high, and he falls short. The Psychic Project depends on audience participation and, unfortunately for Narayan, the randomly selected audience members on press night seemed more than a little apathetic, all too plainly demonstrating that at the end of a rain-sodden week, they had come out to be entertained rather than be entertainers themselves. And to make matters worse, when they apparently demonstrated psychic powers, an almost complete lack of any sense of showmanship on the part of Narayan meant that there was only ever mild and hesitant applause, even for something that was genuinely surprising. The audience positively wanted to engage with the show but they had desperately little to hang on to. Not surprisingly, the biggest applause of the evening came after Narayan resolved a mild technical hiccup, and when he did find an audience member who was willing to join in, he used them too many times, leading to post-show bar speculation that they were a stooge – which they weren’t. As the centrepiece of the second act, what might otherwise have been a spectacular display of mindreading is rendered transparent because Narayan’s patter and movements are simply not enough to distract the audience from wondering exactly why he’s playing ‘heads and tails’ in a way that is not how it is normally played. Even his final trick is almost undermined by a lack of pace but, happily, this did at least end on a triumphant note and win the applause his skills were due.
The Vaults is a cavernous venue and, as such, does nothing to help create the atmosphere of trust and intimacy, which – together with pace – is what a show such as this needs to succeed. Even Narayan’s set is undermined by a white light, stage right, which shines, almost continuously throughout the show, projecting a bright light at the audience, seemingly to no good purpose.
There is much that is good about The Psychic Project, and tighter and slicker it would make for very good entertainment.
Review by Louis Mazzini
The Psychic Project is a mind-reading show based on the true story of America’s psychic spying programme from the Cold War. It tells the story of the programme and attempts the CIA’s experiments, seeing if the audience can achieve the same results; i.e. whether the audience can become psychic spies.
The show is unusual in that the performer, David Narayan, does not demonstrate any psychic powers. Instead, every experiment is attempted by audience members, using the techniques from the CIA’s archives. After sold out shows in 2017 and 2018, The Psychic Project comes to The Vaults Theatre for eight performances.
The Psychic Project
Writer/Performer David Narayan
June 12th 2019 – June 22nd 2019
Wednesday – Saturday, 7.30pm
The Vaults Theatre, Launcelot Street, London SE1 7AD