REVIEW: St John’s May Ball

St. John’s May Ball was excellent. It was not, however, superlative.

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This was my second year attending John’s May Ball and it was wonderful; the atmosphere was incredible, and the night flew by in a whirl of fun. Johns epitomises the fairytale nature of the May Balls, and this year was no exception.

John’s fit the fairytale theme perfectly

The theme, whilst not announced officially, was based around childhood literature. This is the kind of theme which fits the nature of John’s May Ball perfectly – drawing on nostalgia, whimsy, and delight. The decor rose to match the theme, with First Court playing host to flying silhouettes of Peter Pan and Chapel Court’s tower covered in stunning projections from Alice in Wonderland.

The organisation of the night, to ball-goers at least, seemed incredibly smooth. The ‘every surface is a bin’ policy left guests free to roam at will, and armies of workers kept the ball looking and feeling fresh.

The Main Stage pumped out music all night, with a Beyonce tribute act being one of the most popular acts

The ents were fairly strong. John’s isn’t particularly know for large names on the main stage, so whilst Jess Gynne’s dropping out was slightly disappointing, no one seemed all that bothered. Gorgon City, their replacement, were good, but I didn’t stay for that long.

The real strength in the ents were the acoustic, jazz, and comedy tents. Between these three zones all tastes and moods were catered for – I danced along to ‘Twist and Shout’ and laughed at an offensive drag queen with equal pleasure.

The acoustic tent was the perfect place to settle down for a chilled rest

My only quibbles were over small details, which I perhaps unfairly compared to last year’s ball. Such things as the quality of the wristbands (slightly chafing) and the programmes (less glossy) were noticeable, but only minutely detracted from the night. Yet if the greatest strength of John’s May Ball is that fairytale atmosphere, the small things do start to poke holes in the magic.

My other gripe, and one which could possibly only be aimed at Johns and Trinity, was the lack of bubbly. There was free-flowing alcohol all night, but the only champagne flute I laid my hands on during the whole night was during the dining reception. This, compared to last year (and many other balls this year) which saw champagne flow until at least 5am, was slightly disappointing. Call me a posh wanker, but this is John’s May Ball.

Naturally though, champagne-less guests were not left wanting for other food and drink. Delicious cocktails and an incredibly diverse range of food waited in every court; queues were short, and supplies lasted well.

Cocktails abound, in first court (pictured) they were cutely named after childhood characters.

I also attended dining, which was good, yet arguably no better than a formal. The food was served fairly slowly, leaving us anxious to get to the ball when it approached 10pm and we hadn’t yet finished. This was one area where I definitely expected more.

Finally, the fireworks were stunning. I heard several onlookers comment that they wiped the floor with Trinity’s, which gave me some small satisfaction. The ‘grand finale’ was just that, and an already impressive display ended with gasps from onlookers all along the backs. The music was chosen extremely well, arguably hitting ‘peak Cambridge’ as opera boomed out in time to the explosions.

The Fabled John’s Fireworks lived up to their reputation,

Overall, the Ball remained a highlight of May Week and was a great party. I definitely hope to go again next year, and definitely wouldn’t have sold my ticket it retrospect.

But the fabled ‘seventh best party in the world’ can do, and has done, better.

4 Stars


Photos: Johannes Hjorth