In 1972, the Cold War took an unusual turn. The CIA learnt that Russia was investing in mind-control research and achieving some remarkable results.

It sounds ridiculous today, but at the time the US took it very seriously and showed concern over the risk of a growing ‘psychic gap’ between East and West – just like the ‘missile gap’ before it.

Not wanting to be left behind, American scientists began a secret 20-year research project to train civilians as psychic spies – stealing secrets, manipulating memories and finding out if thoughts can really kill.

This research was made public in 1995, with scientists divided over whether psychic spying was a genuine phenomena.

Drawing on 100,000 pages of declassified documents via the Freedom of Information Act, performance artist David Narayan decided to attempt the CIA’s experiments. The result is The Psychic Project – a mind-reading show like no other – laced with a little magic and some ol' fashioned showmanship.

Narayan does not demonstrate any psychic powers himself. Instead, every experiment is attempted by us, the audience, using the techniques from the archives to see if the same results can be achieved right here in Oxford, in an intriguing evening at the Old Fire Station in George Street.

Original research leader Ingo Swann believed that most people have some sort of innate psychic talent and that they just needed to follow a particular process to tap into the Matrix and access the flow of information all around us. So, I just had to find out if I might too.

We start with relatively basic psychic tests from the programme's innocent beginnings, before moving on to the more complex type of techniques they used in actual operations, when things got very dark indeed.

The psychics would describe in detail where hostages were being held and they would draw, correctly and in great detail, schematics of locations, including military installations and mental institutions which they’d obviously never seen.

In front of my very eyes, randomly chosen individuals demonstrate similar powers of perception, to gasps of astonishment and mass chin stroking throughout the packed auditorium.

Even David seems genuinely surprised by the accuracy of one particular lady's results – who continually defies chance to select all the matching symbols in a simple game of Snap.

Narayan invites us to take a leap of faith and suspend any disbelief – and, by the end, I'm totally invested and spooked beyond belief. It's an unpredictable show that's as disturbing as it is astonishing, making sceptics into believers. Of which I am now but one...or, am I?

  • At the heart of the city, Oxford's Old Fire Station is an outstanding arts centre with a reputation for quality productions which take risks, raise questions and ultimately entertain.

A collaboration between Oxford Playhouse and OFS, the forthcoming Offbeat festival promises new theatre, comedy, dance, spoken word, family shows and more, right on your doorstep. Taking place from June 22-30, there's sure to be something for everyone.