REVIEW: Peterhouse May Ball

A unique and personal night of luxury and sensual enjoyment, apparently

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Tab May Ball Rating: 4 stars

It’s easy to feel that the hedonism of May Week has become far too normalized. It is no longer strange to spend half a grand on tickets and outfits, to gorge yourself on lavish meals, drink yourself silly and then eventually stumble to bed in the mid-morning of the next day.

Amidst the banality of yet another paella stand and student bands crooning ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, Peterhouse offered a striking alternative to this fun and yet slightly unsavoury decadence.

Avoiding an arbitrary theme, Peterhouse focused on an overall aesthetic of dreamlike pleasure. As a result, its execution was far subtler than other May Balls, its principle focus being the sensual enjoyment and experience of the ball-goer.


This experience began before even setting foot through the College gates, as the usual boredom of May Ball queuing was transformed by travelling acoustic music from Sam & Rory and a taster portion of risotto to whet our appetites. 

Entering the Ball, there was a clear emphasis on the use of space. The Deer Park was transformed into a carnival of merriment, complete with a carousel, Ferris wheel, art installations and shisha area, all of which were framed by the presiding majesty of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

You spin me right round baby

The Scene Team fully maximized the existing beauty of other College spaces, as Gisbourne court was tastefully adorned with hanging umbrellas and simple paper flowers. The Hall meanwhile, as the oldest secular building in Europe, was candle-lit and adorned with roses suspended from the ceiling whilst humorous wooden signs warned us to be ‘Careful of falling flowers’.

It was somewhat reminiscent of a medieval feast, with cheese boards, copious amounts of red wine and an enormous pavlova that required four hands to transport it.

Long story short, it was fancy

This notion of feast extended throughout the Ball, with food being a sure highlight of the night. Long gone were the usual ostrich burgers, burritos and cupcakes as guests were treated to refined flavours and gastronomical delights such as smoked mussels, a salmon bar and wood-fired pizzas with toppings such as rocket, mushroom and artichoke.

Rather than the token glass at other May Balls, Joseph Perrier champagne and Bellinis flowed all night from ice-filled canoes in First Court, much to the delight of all guests. Although non-alcoholic drinks were somewhat elusive, the drinks oaked by the May Ball Committee themselves were an undeniably impressive feat.

Music at Peterhouse was a mixed bag. The silent disco veered slightly towards a wedding vibe, perhaps appealing to an older crowd of alumni who were in attendance. On the other hand, headline performances from Francesco and Patrizio of Turf and Ben UFO certainly had ball-goers on their feet, spilling across Gisborne Court as the sun rose above. The unique intimacy of these sets was refreshingly more Boiler Room than St. John’s Main Stage.

Note: this is not Ben UFO

At this point, the morning was coaxed in by Leon-inspired breakfast pots, coffee and pastries, as well as the rather comical ‘Sober Up’: shots of medicinal herbs that promised to naturally detoxify, support balance and improve mental clarity. This was one of many nice touches that seemed to favour the wellbeing of the guest.

Although this was our first white-tie event, it seemed that there was truly something different about the luxury of Peterhouse. Perhaps it was the accentuated beauty of the quirky college itself, unknown to many, which was put on show for a night. Or perhaps it was the personal nature of the Ball, which reached out to the needs of guests as well as extending the individual taste of the Committee itself. Indeed, it is important to remember that, due to its triennial occurrence, no member of the Peterhouse committee would have attended a May Ball before and without a precedent, they delved into the history and tradition of the College whilst finding something contemporary and stimulating to suit every guest.