Who wants to attend a dinner party hosted by a woman who murders young men? According to Greek mythology, the Siren lured handsome sailors with her songs and plunged them to death in the deepest waters. Two millennium ago, she discovered that hospitality was a more profitable business and started organising theme dinners instead. The latest edition was held at Oddbird Theatre in Chhattarpur, Delhi, from February 14 to 18 and targeted “surly” singletons cynical of Valentine’s Day romance. Thirty people turned up each day and found that they were the only humans in the hall, the table décor included dead roses and the first thing on the menu was Cream of Nightmare soup.
The Hungry Hearts Supper Club was organised by Mumbai-based group called Crow and combined immersive theatre with fantasy storytelling and food that was more than its sum of ingredients. Crow’s previous performance was Floating Market, where beings from different realms came together at Major Dhyan Chand Stadium to trade in products, such as Pickled Santa and Falcon Eyes.
Far from being surly, the singles, mostly women, at the dinner included an advertisement executive taking a break to travel, a neuroscience student who was going abroad to study music instead, an entrepreneur with two start-ups and a marketing professional with a firm of chartered accountants. Non-human guests also dropped in, from the Goddess of Fashion and the Charm Collector to the Exterminator.
Some humans took a few minutes — and a Monkey Juice (beer) — to get into the groove of being around magical folks but most readily suspended disbelief and plunged into conversations with these strange creatures. Over a seven-course meal that included cheese from the Unreachable Mountains and root vegetables from the Unnamed Forest, the borders blurred between the different kinds of people, both human and mythical. When the Siren led a song — different from the one she used to kill seamen — the hall joined in, in varying timbres and pitches.
From the Siren to the Imp, who assisted her as maître d’, each character came with an elaborate backstory. They took turns to visit each table to regale humans with accounts of their adventures or, in case of the Goddess of Fashion, comments, such as, “Your T-shirt looks like it has escaped a terrible human conflict”, “Doesn’t he seem to have emerged from a Victorian trash can?” and “You have a radiant smile, as if you’ve been handing out cookies to orphans all day”. The Supper Club was an experience that was driven as much by the performers as by the enthusiasm of the audience.
The Charm Collector was the most popular with the ladies. They bribed him with sugar cubes to tell them stories of his travels through various realms. “The elves are the most fascinating chemists but what they lack are emotions and imagination. They come to the Floating Market with the rest of us and they trade in the most elaborate courage or sulks in exchange for emotions, a little bit of fear or some potted laughter,” said the Charm Collector. The Exterminator, on the other hand, liked dictators “because they are more efficient at getting their way, including a certain man faraway with an orange mop”. In the narratives were glimpses of Neil Gaiman’s worlds, from the Floating Market to the Rat People of his novel Neverwhere, but the bulk of the stories at the Supper Club were mythologies created and sustained by the performers.
Rahul Dua and Kainaz Contractor, chefs of Cafe Lota and Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu, sent out dishes that complemented the stories in name, look and taste, from the Gothic plates of root vegetable to a mushroom mousse, called The Mushroom, served in glazed terracotta cups. “Every magical creature is afraid of The Mushroom. The Mushroom is the ultimate parasite that robs an entity of its complete individuality. It can take over an entire species,” says Nayantara Kotian, who has created the performance with Prashant Prakash.
The main course of Phoenix Pasta was plated like an island bordered by greenery. Over the babble, the Charm Collector recounted, “Do you know how the Siren caught the phoenix for this dish? The Phoenix is extremely vain, quite like the Goddess of Fashion. The Siren probably placed a mirror on the ground and hundreds of phoenix birds gathered around it.” The Valentine Day heart appeared on the dessert platter as a passion fruit macaron, which was served with litchi candyfloss, elderflower pana cotta, chocolate truffles and raspberry puree with strawberry slices. Their fictional names were Spheres of Oblivion, assorted flavours of chaos, elderflower cloud panna cotta, macaroons from an unknown bakery in Meherchand Market and strawberries for colour.
When the dinner ended, the evening didn’t. A guest announced that his table was headed to a jazz bar — and several others joined in.
Strangers who had met two hours before began exchanging phone numbers, taking selfies and planning to catch up again. The Siren’s dinner was a success.