St. John’s May Ball

ANNA SHEINMAN finds John’s just short of utopia in our highest rated May Ball review.

Anna Sheinman denim magnetic man May Ball nico muhly orphans of the beefy incident review st. john's may ball

St John’s May Ball

19th June 2012, £150

St John’s May Ball is a lot like finishing finals. The anticipation is sky-high, the quid pro quo is gruelling (£150, ouch) and the reality (sorry Freshers) is pretty bloody brilliant. But unfortunately it’s not nirvana, you’re not floating on cloud nine, because the laws of physics still apply. Here’s what I mean:

As per my former advice, while acts kicked off on seven stages, I went to find food and was well rewarded. No clichéd hog roast nor chocolate fountains for John’s, instead juicy steak frites, flaky fish and chips and smokey, chunky halloumi kebabs were particular highlights, and the chocolate fondant was transcendental. The surprise culinary gem of the evening was the rather superior selection of cured meats and cheeses in the hall. But the triumph was tempered by reality. Food required queuing and most stalls ran out by 2ish, leaving a hungry gap before an admittedly plentiful 4am breakfast.

The drink was good: cocktails from The River Bar punchy and generous, and the Pimms bar never ran dry. However, there wasn’t as much champagne on offer as one might expect for the price tag, and given the long queues for cocktails, a shots bar, or more beer in the punts around college would have improved matters. While I’m grumbling, the ball booklet was totally crap, pernickety perhaps, but small font, busy pages and an unlabelled map are easily avoided.

The fireworks, however, were flawless. Thousands of faces were lit up as an epic fire-show played out across the sky. The magnificent brass band and soaring string soundtrack was perfectly coordinated, and gave the display a real sense of occasion. An explosive finale, and then the college façade, exquisitely lighted, was again busy with students streaming in to watch the big acts.

Headline act Magnetic Man was a disappointment. Too niche to be an easy crowd pleaser like Trinity’s Vengaboys, but too fragmented to dance to. I instead headed to a small stage on second court to see cheesy Cambridge band Orphans of the Beefy Incident and found 40-odd ball-goers having a total rave to covers of Bon Jovi and Queen.

It was moments like this that epitomised the ball – whenever one aspect fell down, something else more than compensated. Comedy was really strong (The Pin were as confident and charming as you might expect), Dodgems are as fun as you remember, and an audience with superstar composer Nico Muhly was nothing short of an honour. For many the Denim drag queens were the real headliner. Even with terrible technical difficulties, they were energetic, likeable, and provided some of the silliness that an otherwise rather earnest line up lacked.

So this wasn’t ball Utopia, but something else meant they pulled it off. Whether it was the warm evening, the beautiful decorations, or just an awful lot of gin in those cocktails, the ambience was just right, and even in glare of the 6am sunshine there were still an awful lot of smiling faces.

Food and drink:


Wow factor:


Value for money:


Star attraction:

Breathtaking fireworks

Biggest turn off:

Magnetic Man