Downing Ball Launch Review


downing may ball Luke Heppenstall-West Quentin Blake Roald Dahl

The Launch of Downing Ball was energetic, colourful and silly, setting a great tone for the event itself.

They wouldn’t tell the us the theme before we arrived. We weren’t even allowed to see the menu lest we might work it out and spread it around – this really was top-secret stuff. The email invitation, which self-combusted shortly after reading, stated simply that we should expect “several big surprises”.

Naturally, we were trepidatious, not least because neither of us knew where Downing actually was, but upon arrival we realised we needn’t have worried about a thing.

As I entered the Dining Hall, I was struck by the sheer loudness of it all. Where I’d expected a drab room filled with the portraits of rich dead people, I found a brightly lit hall filled with colourful balloons and glitter that ingeniously spelt the words ‘Downing May Ball’. Just to remind us why we were all there.

Phoebe, my companion, said it put her in mind of a kid’s Birthday party. The message was clear: this was a May Ball that did not want to take itself too seriously.

As it transpired, Phoebe was right: the theme of this year’s Downing May Ball will be ‘Written by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake’.

Also, they have Quentin Blake coming as a guest of honour. Not bad.

The evening was characterised by childish energy: it didn’t get everything right, but that didn’t seem to matter too much. The menu was inventive and, as promised, pretty heavily themed. The food wasn’t that special – the ‘Giant Bird Pie’ too stodgy and the ‘Big Friendly Gateaux’ actually quite small and antisocial, as is the nature of “deconstructed” puddings.

The company was lovely – we were sat on the Fellow’s Table with the committee next to the wonderfully talkative Ricky (“Like Ricky Gervais”) who regaled us with anecdotes such as his ability to fall asleep doing the splits. It was very impressive – look, he even sent us a picture.

After the meal everyone moved to Downing Bar: transformed from a place where students go to feign amnesia about their mountains of work to somewhere far better resembling a nightclub. It was loud, lively and people were actually dancing. Awkwardly for sure, but dancing nonetheless.

The cocktails were fantastically creative. Brilliantly composed and utterly horrible, my personal favourite was ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’, which combined the sickening sweetness of childhood with the dangerous alcoholic potency of student life.

At about 11.30 the bar began to close and people started filing off to the the after-party at Cindies. The fact people stayed so long is a measure of the evening’s success – it seemed as if they were actually enjoying themselves and weren’t in any rush to go. That’s not bad for college ‘organised fun’.

Despite my heavy bias – Queens’ May Ball will be on the same night – I must admit the evening ran smoothly and was loads of fun, promising great things for the Ball ahead.

81% – Strong 1st: enjoyable all round