REVIEW: Clare May Ball

A ball promising to explore the heavens doesn’t get off the ground.


Before I go further, I need to apologise for the inevitable difficulty of reviewing a May Ball as an individual person.

With so much on offer, it is impossible to do everything, or even see everything. Whilst one person might get stuck in queues for the evening, someone a little more savvy might beat them, and so each experience is different. On top of this, a bad May Ball can be made good by the company so long as there’s booze and a dancefloor.

Still, by having a good scout-around and chatting with a few friends, we came to roughly similar conclusions about Monday night’s ‘Planetarium’-themed ball. It delivered much of what you would expect from Clare: picturesque scenes, delicious food and great use of small spaces. However, it was hard to feel a sense of the extraordinary, which you really hope for when parting with a fair chunk of money. The food situation at the end of the evening didn’t help with this final impression. Here’s a breakdown of my experience.

Tickets

A big plus was that tickets for Clare were frozen at the 2017 price, a sound move when other balls have faced criticism for price-hikes and questionable employment practices. Well done committee.

Queuing

7.40 pm. I enter the queue later than anticipated, owing much to England’s overperformance in the first half of their opening world cup game.

7.45pm. My friend promises to kick me next time I sing Football’s Coming Home.

8:50 pm: I get kicked. A few minutes later we get in, so not bad considering we started queuing late.

Food and drink

The performance in this area was much like a Cambridge term: it started with promise, but left me weary and frustrated. Looking at the programme like a week one reading list, it was overwhelming but still exciting (?). I had two krispy kremes shortly after entry, followed by a Szechuan chicken burger. This latter item was the highlight, not only because it was delicious but because I struggled to beat the queues to much else. A few friends managed to get Annie Mae’s mac ‘n’ cheese and some Lebanese, but unsurprisingly the queue for wood-oven pizza was ridiculous. This isn’t a problem exclusive to Clare, but there must be an argument for more food that can be served up quickly.

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The krispy kremes didn't last long enough to be caught on camera.

The second half of the night was where it all went wrong for me. Urban Shed paninis were great, but should have been there later for breakfast. Come 4 am I was ravenous, and was only offered a mini pastry and a tiny pot of muesli with soya yoghurt. A desperate visit to the college kitchens confirmed this was all that was on offer. I am well aware that such grievances sound like the worst of millennial moaning. Maybe the vegan yoghurt pots were an environmental consideration, but this is hard to understand at 4 in the morning.

Drink

Nothing exquisite, but that can only really be expected from white tie balls, John’s, and Trinity. Prosecco on entry and even the best lychee cocktails were running until the end. Strong in this department.

Entertainment

Some really clever, well-thought out stuff here, alongside your may ball staples. The swings and the helter-skelter were guaranteed crowd-pleasers, and the laser-tag gave me a chance to win something. The virtual reality space experience was a big highlight. As well as travelling the solar system, you could paint all over it, letting me add some rainbow rings to Saturn. Punting was beautiful and moved swiftly.

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Punts offered a half-chance to break into Trinity.

Music

Mike Skinner, the genius of The Streets, was a big part of why I chose Clare this year. Some friends almost thought of buying tickets to see him. He offered the possibility of dark, gritty numbers next to Year 7 disco bangers like “Fit but you know it”, made all the stranger by a black tie audience. However, it soon became clear that this was Mike Skinner doing a general DJ set, rather than Mike Skinner, frontman of The Streets.

Clare delivered on the silent disco and tribute act. The tent was packed for Colonel Spanky’s and Dysfunktional, so a dance was always on offer if you wanted it. My main qualm though goes back to the main stage. Located across the river in the Fellows’ Garden, it was frequently half-full.

Verdict

Despite my unending quest for nourishment, the ball finished well with a samba band marching through college to round everyone up for the survivors’ photo. Walking home, I definitely didn’t regret my purchase. The college had looked stunning, and except for the main stage, most of the space had been used really well and was busy. Still, I was left wanting a little more, which was perhaps a result of a lack of good breakfast and a world-class headline act, rather than just a world class headliner.

My high expectations and subsequent disappointment were perhaps a sign of Clare being a victim of its own success. Hearing great things last year and struggling to get tickets for much else when most of the biennials were off, it seemed like Clare was the next best thing after John’s and Trinity. In many ways it was, but what’s frustrating is it could’ve been even better value for money.

Rating: 3.5/5

Would be higher if my fast had been broken as desired, and there was a better headline act.

Recommended for: Couples looking for something picturesque.