On the 14th of March 2014, hundreds of guests swarmed the driveway of the notoriously remote red-brick college to enjoy what promised to be a night of sophisticated Gatsby-esque luxury. The long pilgrimages completed by ball guests consummated in a view of Girton’s glamorously lit gatehouse tower, but the effect of thoughtful production effects was somewhat flattened by the single major issue of the night. Whilst ball tickets detailed an opening time of 9pm, many guests queued for over two hours to enter, an unappealing prospect on a chilly March evening with guests having paid a hefty £95 for a ticket. A technical issue was deemed responsible for the painfully long wait, and the wait was mitigated for many by diligent catering staff attempting to thaw shivery guests with canapés, hot chocolate and mulled cider.
Despite the near-arctic conditions endured whilst queuing, revellers quickly warmed to what promised to be a decadent evening. Upon entering a red-carpet clad courtyard, chilly guests were swiftly placated by a champagne reception and the prospect of exploring Girton’s labyrinthine Victorian corridors.
Aesthetically, the theme was ideal in its potential for interpretation. Girton’s nods to the prohibition era were both subtle and well-executed, manifesting mainly in the expansive yet surprisingly intimate Fellow’s Drawing Rooms. In the first of these beautiful spaces, old and new were fused by complementing a speak-easy setting with fashionable foodstuffs. Mismatched teacups were filled with lashings of Hendrick’s gin served from their iconic brown bottles, and guests were tempted by an attentively replenished stand of artisan cupcakes and macaroons. Entertainment was delivered in the second drawing room, the decoration of which doffed its cap to the literary achievements of the era with manuscript bunting adorning the ceilings, and an installation of hanging books providing a perfectly relaxed backdrop for low-key acoustic entertainment. The plush sofas in here also provided many stragglers with the perfect location for a sneaky mid-ball micro-sleep.
The College’s historical Stanley Library played host to an eye-watering absinthe bar. Bathed in emerald light, the room was tastefully decorated with bowler hats, some suspended from the library’s ornamental ceiling, others poised playfully on the heads of antique porcelain busts. Inside, guests were treated to a luxurious selection of fine cheese and, possibly the most outrageously pretentious drink of the night, diamond filtered vodka served from crystal skulls.
For those eager to maintain a clear head, Fentimans botanical drinks fulfilled the brief for a suitably retro alternative, and Girton’s connection to smoothie juggernaut Innocent was evident in the vast array of fruity thirst-quenchers that filled ice baths in the college’s courts. Non-drinkers still shivering from the queue were treated to steaming cups of tea served in the cosy JCR, a small yet comfy space which proved another prime napping spot for revellers who miscalculated the amount of diamond skull vodka one should consume in a single evening.
In the outside spaces, the theme seemed to slacken slightly, giving way to a more generic setup of food stalls, marquees and fairground rides. This did, however, allow space for a few less refined but equally as enjoyable ball stalwarts. In Woodlands Court the Tapas bar pumped out delicious paella right into the early hours, and the River Bar kept guests quenched and with an extensive range of cocktails. The Outback Burger stand also proved to be a hit, churning out bison, ostrich and kangaroo patties to sate the palates of more adventurous party-goers. Alcoholic slushies served in Cloister Court’s dance tent also proved to be a hidden gem; guests were handed a vodka slush which they could supplement with an array of spirits placed on the side of the bar.
Whilst some revellers were keen to stay out of the cold, many gathered in Woodlands Court to catch headliners King Charles and The Other Tribe. The former’s brand of inoffensive folk-pop proved disappointingly generic, but The Other Tribe’s lively set was crowd-pleasing and had guests dancing from beginning to end. Although production value was appreciated in the headliners tent, many smaller Cambridge-based acts far surpassed the bigger-budget stars. Deserving of particular mention were Fitz Swing, whose sophisticated repertoire managed to keep guests dancing until survivors were herded together for the infamous 5am photo. Whilst the quality of ents was largely favourable, a minor gripe would be that the comedy sets staged in the Old Hall were completely inaudible to all but those within a few feet of the stage.
Overall, Girton Spring Ball was a success. The committee never wavered in their campaign to provide an evening of luxury catering to every palate and guests were indulged in constant culinary stimulation and entertainment. It is important to acknowledge, however, that the enjoyment of this luxury was reduced by as much as a quarter for many guests due to unreasonably long queues.