May Week in review

Connie Fisher 25 June 2012

Caius May Ball

As one of the performers observed, describing a comedy stage as ‘Hell’ in your programme may be a somewhat unusual promotional tactic, but this Paradise Lost-themed Caius Ball was closer to Paradise than the Inferno (to reference the wrong author).

The programme promised a re-envisioning of Milton’s epic which describes the fall of Satan and his venture in the Garden of Eden. Guests entered through Heaven, the college’s front court, a place for relaxation and acoustic music, gyspsy-esque band The Klezbians being a particular highlight and an occasion for joyous dancing.

Comedy in the aforementioned ‘Hell’ court began slowly (though with a small audience at the start it was always going to struggle) but by the time misdirectional sketch group The Pin took to the stage the audience was roaring and well in the mood for rising star Seann Walsh and, later, some burlesque dancers who incongruously began their routine dressed as Marie Antoinette.

Inside, Chaos provided an array of food and drink from a whiskey tasting session to a buffet of ‘unusual meats’ – curried python and zebra being particular highlights though their popularity ensured they were short-lived. Over in the Master’s Garden – inevitably cast as the Garden of Eden – a python of the non-curried and very much alive variety proved an exciting attraction (at least for those who enjoy draping snakes around themselves).

The almost endearingly middle-of-the-road headliners The Feeling drew crowds for their memorable hit (as the headliners two years ago, Toploader, also did) but it was the last act, ever-popular Cambridge mash-up merchants Truly Medley Deeply, who ensured that dawn saw the main stage – Pandemonium – living up to its name.

There can be no doubt, it was a great night. The sheer amount of food, drink and entertainment crammed into the relatively small space of Caius old courts was incredible and on a par with the balls of larger colleges though the more limited numbers (tickets tend to be restricted to Caians and one or two guests) ensured that queuing was rare. It did mean that one could not easily take in everything – the truly exceptional Caius Jazz being hidden away in the Hall during the early hours of the morning perhaps meant they did not get the audience they deserved – but what one did see was sublime. Caius may not have the profile of Trinity or St John’s, but there are few places better to escape ‘the void profound of unessential night.’

Chris McKeon

The Cambridge Union Garden Party

The Union Garden Party was largely disappointing; with a ticket price of £17.50 for members and £22 for non-members, I left the event feeling significantly short changed.

To begin with, I couldn’t get into the garden – I was refused entrance through the front gates of Sidney Sussex, yet the door leading to the garden on Jesus Lane was locked with at least four people waiting outside. After ten minutes the door opened, thanks only to several students leaving to go home. Not a good start.

On entering the garden I saw queues. Lots and lots of queues. My friends, keen to get candy floss, queued for an hour before giving up – apparently no candy floss is worth an hour’s wait. The situation was the same for the oysters and some strange warm gloopy matter, which I think was meant to be Eton Mess. I queued longest for pasta but was dismayed to discover it had run out when I got to the front and was offered couscous instead. I did not want couscous. After about three hours, all the food ran out entirely, which was soon followed by a shortage of Champagne and Pimm’s, leaving us with only Gin and Tonic. I did not want Gin and Tonic.

The entertainment consisted of several musical groups dumped in the middle of the central lawn. The music was poor – whoever was responsible for the PA didn’t take into account that it was a very windy day, which resulted in the microphone occasionally getting blasted by the gusts, producing a startling, loud and undignified rumbling noise that could be heard from either end of the garden. I believe one of the singers fell over halfway through her set (it WAS windy and she WAS small, perhaps she blew over?) and the jazz band was simply boring. In defence of the musicians, the PA system was so bad that they probably only sounded poor because of the dire equipment provided.

Queuing, food, drink and entertainment issues aside, the atmosphere was pleasing enough, although I overheard someone describing it as being tantamount to a Young Conservative Association Garden Party, and I’m inclined to agree that at times the whole imbroglio felt mildly epiphenomenal.

The gardens were pretty and the weather was pleasant, but I’m more than a little disappointed to report the best thing about the Union Garden Party was something that the Union had absolutely no control over.

Considering how much they charged for the tickets (quite high for a Garden Party), I was not impressed. Badly done.

Nicholas Tufnell

Murray Edwards Garden Party

The colourful gardens of Murray Edwards College were transformed into a Shakespearean setting on Suicide Sunday. Red satin curtains draped the sides of the walkway along Orchard court, and suspended among the tree branches were hidden secrets of sweets and summer bubbles.

The Midsummer Night’s theme continued throughout the drinks selection, with unlimited cocktails ranging from ‘Titania’ to ‘Love Juice’ if you didn’t already have a cup of Pimm’s in your hands. Cambridge student band What The Folk?! headlined the stage with their feel-good sounds. Together with the crowd, they filled the gardens with a true festival atmosphere. Now and then you’d be tempted by the scent of barbeque burgers for the savoury or tasty crepes for the sweet, and given the sunshine; the queue for the ice cream van seemed as unlimited as the food and drink itself.

If our memories failed to capture it all, the Photo booth along the walkway served the perfect function, printing instant snaps with the faces you’ve enjoyed the afternoon with. Whether you were pulling faces in the ‘booth, blowing smoky ringlets in the Shisha tent, blowing a Shakespearean ‘kiss through the hole in the wall’, swinging a wild hit at the pinata or dancing in the crowd chanting ‘one more song’; sound, scent, taste and feel – there was something for everyone. Among the vibrant mix of students, whether attracted up the hill from another College or continuing Suicide Sunday from Crescents or Wyverns, there was nothing but smiling faces to be seen. The sunny sky completed the scene of happy young men and women enjoying the summery post-exam feeling; a perfect kick-start for May Week.

Gwen Jing

Catz June Event

Metropolis was a puzzling theme from the start. Being e-mailed sporadically about a dress code which “represented your city” and then being told “black tie preferred” on the day, I was cruelly forced to swap my Big Ben costume for a dress. After an hour in the queue listening to jazz and being awarded pink shrimp sweets by creepy men in what can only be assumed to be “street urchin” costumes, curiosity was still intact. Swiftly processing through into the main court of St Catharine’s College, we were greeted by champagne cocktails and swished our way through the one way system to the first small enclosure. Ice cream, hamburgers and arcade games clustered together, with a somewhat incongruous “crime scene: keep out” cordon, behind which hovered slightly unconvincing-looking street dancers on what looked like kitchen lino flooring. This, presumably, was “the ghetto”. Enjoyable as it was the sneaking suspicion that any Daily Mail-esque publication would take this to mean “Cambridge students don’t understand poor people” was unavoidable.

Predictably, the “posh” side of Metropolis was more authentic, with a croquet lawn furnished with cupcakes and Pimms and elegant garden furniture. The chill-out area was equally sophisticated, with armchairs, acoustic music and Bailey’s galore.

Entertainment was a hit too. Although the main hall felt pretty under capacity at times, Itchy Feet did not fail to please, while the main tent acts – Majesty (a Queen tribute band) and our very own Truly Medley Deeply – produced joyous sing-a-long after joyous sing-a-long.

The main court itself was packed with interesting sights including bungee runs for the ambitious and a great variety of easily accessible food and drink. Seating areas were well distributed and abundant (a relief to the over-heeled) and the ambient lighting contributed to a jovial and laid back atmosphere.

All in all, though the theme seemed a little mish-mash, the food and drink flowed freely, allowing us to finish the night on a comforting hot chocolate. The result: a great many happy customers ambling away into the night.

Emily Loud

Peterhouse May Ball

Well, this is pointless. Peterhouse’s theme less white-tie May Ball is a triennial event. This means that when the next one trundles past you probably won’t be here. If you are, you probably won’t remember this review. With this in mind, here goes:

The ball is expensive, starting at £300 for standard tickets, or 400 for dining. Those who stumped up for the full package were treated to an uninteresting four-and-a-half course dinner, accompanied by some rather good jazz and some excellent wine, including a startlingly good rose. Starters and desserts were randomly (alternating seats had alternating dishes), leading to either cheerful swapping or jealous resentment, depending on one’s company. The dinner was good, but not worth £50. In 2015, save your cash and go to Gardie’s instead.

The ball itself was fabulous, but disorganised. Peterhouse’s Deep Park is exactly the right size, full of nooks, crannies and unexpected spots. Stumble past a clump of bushes, and you’re in the shisha and Ferrero Rocher corner. Take a left, and you’re in the gin tent. The main music stage was similarly hidden away – TCS spoke to several guests who passed the evening without noticing it.

This may have been a good thing. The mainstage headliners (Dubstep producer Jakwob and indie-popster Cock’n’bull Kid) confused more guests than they impressed. Amateur, outdoor acts fared better – both The Brass Funkeys and The Klezbians won over the apparently dubstep-proof crowd.

The ‘triennial’ aspect reared it port-stained head around 11PM. Being triennial, there’s no hand-over of useful tips from one year’s committee to the next, and so avoidable errors cropped up. Food appeared and disappeared rapidly, from the ‘blink-and-you’ll-miss-them’ oysters, which lasted less than ten minutes (kind of understandable – they are oysters), to the disappearing sushi. The few stalls providing food all night were swamped. Come 5.30AM security guards were nearly reduced to dragging guests away from the doughnut queue, herding punters into the main court for the survivor’s photo.

The drink situation was much better. Beer, gin and champagne were in plentiful supply. Mixologists provided inventive cocktails in the ‘Cervus’ tent, which was crowded, but no more than any trendy bar on a Saturday night. ‘Cervus’ was also the hub for many of the evening’s non-musical acts. Comedy duo Frimston and Romett disappointed; a prolonged ‘mafia’ sketch noticeably drove people away. In contrast, ‘Magical Oli’ was a surprise highlight. His table levitation (including an impressive waltz) may well have been genuine magic. Speaking of waltzing, a proper waltz would have been nice. The ‘Waltz show’ was impressive, and the lessons were great for the arrhythmic, but it would have been nice for guests who attended Peterhouse’s waltz pre-ball waltz workshop to have a chance to strut their stuff.

The peaks were high; the free massages in the upper parlour and DJ Tim O’Brian’s incredible silent disco in the hall (one of Europe’s oldest buildings) were both excellent. But a few avoidable lows held back the ball from perfection.

Tristram Fane Saunders

Christ’s May Ball

Christ’s May Ball had its moments but was ultimately overstretched and under delivered.

For those with dining tickets, the meal proved one of the highlights. The bright feather vases and soothing violins transformed Christ’s formal hall into a vibrant setting in which to begin the evening. In the ball itself, the food and drink was on offer was the usual May Ball fare: fajitas, burgers, doughnuts – uninspiring but tasty and plentiful with minimal queuing.

Though Christ’s boasted no famous names, the entertainment on offer was enjoyable and diverse. The headliners Theme Park were surprisingly good given that no one had heard of them, with their ‘Talking Heads’ vibe producing much hipster-esque head-bobbing and foot shuffling. Truly Medley Deeply predictably drew the largest crowds with their frantic blend of outdated pop tunes proving as magnetic as always. The Klezbians’ syncopated Balkan beats were the late night favourite, keeping people dancing well into dawn.

Perhaps by virtue of being a bit niche, the theme, La Cidade Maravilhosa (i.e., Rio de Janeiro), felt half-baked. Despite the programme’s best attempts to justify them, the smiling Sun and Moon sitting on First Court’s circular lawn seemed comically out of place, almost jarring. The rest of the decorations were more tasteful, though more could have been done to amplify Christ’s architecture, particularly around the car park area, which continued to look like a car park.

There was also an irritating lack of attention to detail in places. The photographer taking pictures across the bottleneck between the main stage and the rest of the ball was a constant source of delay and annoyance. And I never worked out why Rio’s iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer sat behind a metal fence.

On paper, Christ’s had all the ingredients for an excellent evening, but failed to blend them harmoniously. More Favela than beachfront.

Richard Benson

Trinity Hall Garden Party

Trinity Hall plays a significant part in Suicide Sunday proceedings, with the Crescents’ Drinking Society’s infamous early morning initiations attracting students from across the university. Yet if the morning represented something of a raucous affair, featuring such delights as the consumption of gin from a fish, then the college’s annual garden party was a far calmer, more dignified affair which went down a treat with its attendants.

The sun looked kindly on the beautiful surroundings of the college’s Latham Lawn on Sunday afternoon as students drifted off to the strains of Selwyn Jazz and CUJO. The college’s popular music trio Three Girls and a Ukulele (a new group on the 2012 May Ball circuit: take note!) provided a charming interlude, with their rendition of ‘Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard’ a particular favourite amongst fellow Tit Hallers and other students alike.

As for food and drink, a barbeque, strawberries and cream and a much-anticipated ice cream van serving ‘99s proved perfect fare, whilst students’ thirst was quenched by many a glass of Pimm’s. Running out of Pimm’s in the last hour put something of a dampener on proceedings, but shandies were a decent replacement. Having the stalls spaced out across the lawn ensured that queues remained self-contained and remarkably short considering the many hundreds of students in attendance.

All in all, then, a successful garden party providing a relaxing antidote to Suicide Sunday’s more boisterous drinking marathons. For a ticket price of fifteen pounds, one can imagine worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Louise Ashwell

Jesus May Ball

Having never experienced a May Week Ball before, I’d been seriously sceptical all week as to how one evening’s entertainment could be worth the £120-plus ticket price. Jesus, however, did not disappoint: I’m a convert.

As we were bombarded at the door with champagne, fajita wraps and a beautifully-designed programme packed with schedules of food, drink and entertainment, I wondered how we’d ever get round to sampling everything: safe to say, I don’t think we did.

The theme was ‘revelry’, each area of the College modelled around a world festival. We munched on noodles and dizzied ourselves on the swing boats in Chinese New Year, and then found doughnuts, candyfloss, fairground stalls and arcade games at May Day. The helter-skelter, however, proved a little too dangerous for my gown.

In the 2am lull we escaped to the fake snow and gentle acoustic music of Saint Nick’s Christmas Courtyard. The photo booth in the snow was a nice touch, as were the cupcakes and mince pies, despite taking us quite a while to search out.

Some of the other areas were a little less well defined (I never knew sushi was an iconic Venetian foodstuff), but the grounds were decorated beautifully and there was always plenty of seating and a band playing nearby. The quality of the food and drink was excellent, but many stalls closed earlier than scheduled: I still can’t believe I missed the chocolate fountain.

After queuing for twenty minutes for a cocktail, watching the waiter individually mashing mint leaves in mojitos, we realised the tables covered in Pimms or glasses of champers were the places to go. However, you could get almost anything you wanted without a wait, except, sadly, an empty loo. We all appreciated the fancy marbled portaloos, but we didn’t appreciate waiting half an hour to get into them. The queues for the bacon rolls at 4am were also predictably extensive, and the early morning breakfast pastries (long awaited by me) ran out pretty fast as we began to get the impression they were hurrying us all out of the door.

The headliners, Rizzle Kicks, were buzzing with energy, while appearing slightly surprised that Cambridge Uni students knew how to party. The timing of the acts, however, could have been improved, the band starting at 11pm, which seemed a little early. They also overlapped with Radio One DJs Jaymo and Andy George, who consequently were slightly overlooked.

Comedian Russell Kane was also a great favourite, as he bounced around the stage with good-natured classist Cambridge jokes.

Emerging feeling ultra-sophisticated from Churchill’s casino (tenuously linked to Cannes Film Festival) into broad daylight I couldn’t quite believe I’d made it through the whole night and still hadn’t seen everything.

As we stood, bleary-eyed, blinking up at the camera snapping the crowd of ‘survivors’ we knew we’d done far more than just survived: we’d had an experience we’d never forget.

Connie Fisher