REVIEW: Magdalene May Ball

VICA GERMANOVA was left bedazzled by the night of magic, but bewildered by the lack of mayhem

magdalene may ball magdalene review

Magdalene May Ball purports to be the crème de la crème – the Big 3 aside – of the May Week season. 

In case this reputation has not preceded them: it is held only once every two years, a pair of dining tickets comes to a painful £450, and transgressing the white tie dress code purportedly leads to expulsion. In short, this is a ball which means business.

It was with a sense of equal excitement and trepidation that we descended upon the dining queue. There was a bit of a cockup during queueing, with the 100 last people denied entrance photos as a panicked committee realised that we were running late for dinner.

Yeah but can you do it with a lighter mate (Harriet Wakeman)

Yeah but can you do it with a lighter mate (Harriet Wakeman)

Thankfully, we just about made it in for the oysters, which were on point. Seriously, whose bright idea was it to only serve oysters for 1 hour right at the start?! I can honestly say this (intensely subjective and meaningless) review would have lost about 2 stars had that not happened. Y’all cut it close, guys.

In daylight, the setup didn’t look like anything particularly special. Hell, dinner was served in a white marquee. There was also a distinct rank of fairground rides, except one Helter Skelter which left me with two very sore elbows and minor PTSD. Definitely wasn’t drunk enough for that one.

However, as the sun set, the lights came on, and the place became every shade of beautiful. The delightful, albeit lukewarm, 7-course meal was forgotten and we actually left the table before coffee to go and wander around the magical, somewhat hallucinogenic world that had blossomed into shape around us.

The projection show only increased the fairytale feel of the place

The projection show only increased the fairytale feel of the place (Johannes Hjorth)

Magdalene may be small, but the ball used up every bit of space that it could, to the point that I felt like I was walking through a Grimm fairytale. Getting lost became an absolute pleasure as fresh surprises were discovered every step of the way.

The food was A*, in particular the authentic crêpes cooked up by Frenchmen with deep accents and striped T-shirts, brought in specially from London, and delicious gyozas. The drink game, however, was a little weak. Although craft beer, cider and whiskey tasting tents were set up, and the frozen alcoholic slushies were a nice touch, there were only a small range of average cocktails on offer.

Could you BE any more French?

Could you BE any more French? (Johannes Hjorth)

Despite all the beauty and splendour and sexy lights, this was a May Ball that felt nothing like a May Ball we’d experienced.

The problem lay in the people it was aiming to please. Maybe around a fifth of the attendees were alumni or parents brought along by their children, and this was whom the event catered for. Boring acts (Fratellis? Zzzzzzz), silent films (bare edgy and that but how the fuck are you meant to know what’s going on?!) and generally subdued atmosphere. The lack of queues, initially a huge relief, became rather unsettling as at times certain areas seemed almost deserted.

Salsa dancing classes were fun for about 5 mins then everyone left

Salsa dancing classes were fun for about 5 mins then everyone left (Harriet Wakeman)

Even by 2am, there was a woeful lack of jubilant drunken shouting. In a way, it was nice to spend several hours surrounded by high class, elegance, and luxury, but maybe we’re still just a bit too fresh to endure 12 hours of that kind of night. The cravings for big tunes and bigger crowds got way too strong, and we actually left early.

If you are a non-drinker, want to take your mum to the ball, or just want a fairytale magic date night with your bae and no one else, this is the perfect place. If you prefer to feel young wild ‘n’ free, spend those pennies elsewhere. There’ll be time enough for this when your children come to Cambridge and invite you here.

It was basically a snapshot of your life in 30 years' time provided all goes as planned

It was basically a snapshot of your life in 30 years’ time provided all goes as planned (Johannes Hjorth)

It was a Ball in the proper sense, not in the #ballin sense. Not bad, just different.

Entertainment: 3.5/5

Wow factor: 5/5

Food & drink: 3.5/5

Value for money: 4/5