Review: Queens' May Ball

Image credit: Oliver Robinson Photography

As a veteran of Queens' Centenary and the Museum of Curiosity balls, I was very much looking forward to Wanderlust. Queens’ May Balls of the past have never disappointed, from the sheer brilliance and, of course, the headline act of the 2013 the quirkiness and originality of the 2015 ones. Wanderlust also promised to be a solid theme - focusing various courts and activities on corners of the world, with thematic food and decoration seemed a bit risky in the world of cultural appropriation anxieties, but if done well promised a great night. 

My main problem with Wanderlust is that it doesn’t offer anything new and doesn’t execute the familiar elements as well as its predecessors. First of all, the theme focused not on travelling destinations, but on the process of travelling itself - the decoration was meant to capture ships, balloons, trains and the like. It did it with varying success - the lights installation on Essex building next to the Mathematical Bridge worked very well, but in most areas of the ball it felt like it had no theme at all. The devil is in the detail, and Wanderlust did not impress, either by its scale or the attention to the small things. 

The food was hit and miss, too - both the sushi and the Aromi stall, by now traditional for Queens’, felt like they had just come off a conveyor belt. Some of the other food was thought through - for example, the hot dog stall had not one but two veggie options, and the Wandering Yak offered a variety of veggie Mediterranean delights. The most intriguing Tibetan stall was too crowded to be worth it - the rest had very little to no queues at all.The drinks did not disappoint, but were pretty standard - for example, the menu for the professional cocktails stall was exactly the same as two years ago. In this particular case it is not really a criticism, as the cocktails were incredible, but coupled with pretty standard wine-beer-mojito elsewhere, Wanderlust didn’t offer anything new on the drinks front. Overall, food and drink were plentiful, they were still available till 4 am, and there were almost no queues. However, if the lack of queues was considered to be a balling achievement in 2012, in 2017 it seems to be standard practice and the bare minimum expected of a 160 quid event. 

Queens’ May Balls have a reputation for their headline acts. I personally enjoyed JP Coopers’ set (having never heard of him before), but the ABBA tribute band was much more fun. The student bands were the biggest delight for me - SAACHI had one of their most energetic sets, and the debutant Sidney SusSex Pistols, an all-female acapella endeavour, were the revelation of the night - they quite easily overtook the other acapella performance, a sing-off between Show Choir and their Oxford counterpart (although the acoustics of the respective venues might have had something to do with it). The Sidney girls were quite a late addition to the entertainment- they weren’t in the programme, and some of the things promised in advance seem to have never materialised. The rest of the entertainment was pretty standard - dodgems, swings and a delightful arcade room, featuring a virtual reality game alongside 1990s treats. The decision to have an actual ballroom dancing workshop at a May Ball was a nice touch, but it clashed with too many other things - it would have really benefitted from being moved to a later slot.

Overall, it was a fun night, but the strong tradition of its predecessors, coupled with the ever-rising fee, really leaves Wanderlust wanting - I expected more of it. A better executed theme, some originality and something to make it truly unique could have turned the event into a much better ball.

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