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Saturday 25th October 2014, 08:00 BST | Cambridge,UK

May Week

With ten weeks of revision calling, Varsity looks forward to summer escapism

Friday

“Like weather, one’s fortune may change by the evening”. The tagline of this year’s Homerton ball surely reveals the college’s hopes that this year’s ball, Xian, will put Homerton, and the hitherto unusual Friday-night slot, firmly on the May Week timetable.

Co-hosting the first night of official post-exam revelry are Homerton and Robinson, one inviting us to a 1930s Chinese city, the other to a Shakespearean woodland clearing. Two of the more intimate balls of the week, both colleges are determined to prove that the non-central colleges can put on a damn good show.


At Homerton, expect opium dens, fire eaters and burlesque, and a less mainstream collection of acts than you might find elsewhere, although, last year, Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills was an unexpected addition to the Southern college’s frivolities. On the other side of the Cam, big act Pendulum will be drumming their way through the midnight groves of Robinson’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Continuing to be one of the cheapest May Ball tickets in Cambridge, last year was a night of unpretentious fun and, costing little more than a Event, it might be the extra opportunity you were looking for to lose your dinner jacket.


Saturday

Before being let loose for Suicide Sunday, the rowers have to endure the carbohydrate-fuelled last day of the May Bumps. Hopefully heralded by good weather, watch the races from one of the marquees lining the banks, a glass of pimms in hand, surrounded by a unique collection of striped blazers, and bask in the unique glory of Cambridge past.

Caius has been Head of the River since 2002, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth going for a jump and shout, preferably in a floral print, at the river bank. Finding one’s way to a beer garden afterwards is mandatory, unless of course you are headed to the Hughes’ Hall ball for a night in Paris.

Despite these elegant French delights, however, the evening will probably be remembered for the carnage of the boat club dinners, as the previous fortnight’s drinking ban, and probably the name of the teammate opposite, becomes nothing but a hazy memory.

Sunday

The official start-whistle of Mayweek, this is the official day of that Cambridge institution, the drinking society.

May Week was originally a pre-examination phenomenon for some last-ditch fun before the revision lock-down. But it is hard to imagine the jelly fights and more complicated initiation practices of Suicide Sunday with exams still on the horizon.

Garden parties litter Cambridge, the most famous being those of the Magdalene Wyverns’ and the Trinity Hall Crescents’. Boaties and accompanying entourages will probably head to the Downing Tribe’s barbeque, one of the few events that might actually feed you on this day of liquid dieting. Any given patch of green will probably be strewn with vomit-dipped ties and wilted dresses by mid-morning; drinking from 8am is completely acceptable and inebriation by noon is normal.

Despite the day, Cindies throws open its doors this Sunday, calling the drinking societies back home to their hallowed font, and, for those still upright, this might just stave off the hangover for a couple of extra hours.

Monday

Although Monday morning might demand a particularly greasy fry-up and the prolific use of the Facebook detag function after the previous day’s antics, Monday evening marks the first of night of the big May Balls;

Clare, Emma, Jesus and Trinity will all be jostling for fireworks space and parading their wares for the lengthy queues.

Trinity seems to need little introduction. They certainly don’t need a theme. A world-class reputation ensures ticket sales are the least of the committee’s worries and those not lucky enough to call a corner in Great Court their own beg, bribe and steal the golden tickets. The chosen few will enjoy one of the best firework displays in Cambridge, perhaps through the golden glow of one of the ubiquitous champagne trays circling the rooms. The Ents details will be released a week before the ball, so the rest of us can see what we are missing.

However, tucked behind Trinity, Clare will be offering its own delicacies from the turrets of Chateau Fantaisie. The seventeenth-century old court is the setting for the extravagances of Versailles promised.

Selling out in record time, Jesus is building on the reputation it has established over the last few years. Through The Looking Glass will use the Jesus grounds for maximum impact, and, if it is anything like last year, you can expect to find Carroll’s creations running through the trees. One addition Varsity has been promised is the return of Stevie Starr, the professional regurgitator, just hopefully not post-hog roast.

Across town, the final ball in this magnificent quartet will raise its curtain. Emmanuel’s Vaudeville hopes to bring us the dazzling array of early twentieth-century variety theatre. Corntortionists and sword-swallowers are promised in this biennial treat, and the committee are so accommodating that they have even arranged for 30% off suit hire at Moss Bros for their guests. Now that really is service.

Tuesday

Tuesday dawns, but there is no sign of things slowing down for the party-starved exam survivors. The other big-wig of the week, St John’s, promises a whirlwind tour of the Grimm fairytale canon for those persuasive enough to have eased a ticket from a Johnian friend. Famously, Time magazine listed the ball as the seventh best party in the world, and previous Entz include Hot Chip, The Scissor Sisters and the Mystery Jets.

Queens’ is the other sell-out on Tuesday, and one which has nabbed the Kaiser Chiefs in recent times. Varsity was informed that the details of the ball’s theme are not going to be released before the night, but this element of mystery didn’t stop Queens’ selling 1500 tickets within minutes of their going on sale to non-College members.

Compared with these two, it would be all too easy to turn one’s nose up at Newnham. But promising the glamour of the Ritz, and the fizzing swirls of the sixties, Smoke is pushing for big acts, big numbers and a big comeback. Their last ball in 2004 lured Amy Winehouse to Cambridge, so perhaps the time is nigh to cast aside the snobbery we hold so dear.

Wednesday

Get out your diaries. The week’s peak will demand planning, coordination, and a wide range of outfits. Magdalene’s white tie splendour, together with the first Pemboke ball in nine years, seem to guarantee that Wednesday will be one of the most memorable nights in June.

Magdalene is the only white tie occasion this year, so, if you like your Mr Darcy in tails, this is the ticket you need. Of course, it’s sold out. But if you have a ticket, you should expect funfair rides and a rifle range. No doubt you’ll be showing the rest of us the photos for the rest of eternity.

For us tail-less mortals, Pembroke and Downing have black tie balls. This year, Pembroke has decided to upscale their

‘black tie event’ to the full fanfare of a ball. The theme is Champagne, and, if this is anything to go by, the transition to ball should not be a problem. After all, this is the college which clinched Led Zeppelin as an act back in the day.

The Downing ball will share its maiden voyage with Pembroke. Preened, pampered and more luxuriously dressed, the Downing Ball (previously held in Lent Term) debuts in May Week. Celtic runes will adorn the neoclassical columns and guests are assured that the goddess Danu will be overflowing with abundance.

However, if, by this point in the week, your ball dress needs a furtive dry clean, and you are ready to do some proper dancing, of the kind that is impossible in a floor-length raw silk number, you might want to head to an Event. Side-by-side on the Cam, King’s and Trinity Hall will each be offering their efforts.

Trinity Hall’s London Calling offers both “the decadence of Mayfair and the downright dirtiness of Soho” whereas King’s Aftermath will blaze onto the Cambridge consciousness with apocalyptic revelry. The Klaxons and Shit Disco this year, and a back catalogue of acts including Ladytron and Shy FX, ensure that the King’s Event is the truly alternative affair needed mid-week.

Thursday

Sigh. By this point in the week, a break for blistered feet is on the horizon. No doubt the backs will be strewn with picnics and sunglasses, as Cambridge finally has a chance to breathe. Scudamore’s will be the obvious port of call for those considering breaking free of the Cantab shackles and heading to the Grantchester in a bikini.

However, if more entertainment in our academic backwater is what you’re after, head for the swirl of May Week shows, held in every conceivable location across the city. The Edinburgh previews will swing into action, and allow you to talk with an air of superiority when Cambridge moves up north in August. The Footlights’ show, Wham Bam, is already in the making and, for both the hardened footlights’ follower and the novice, it will be a must-week between parties.

Friday

May Week must end with a bang. Or, at least this is the call of the Corpus and St Edmund’s ball committees.

Corpus is the cheapest central college ball ticket, and always an intimate affair. This year it is breaking free of its tendency towards more traditional themes, such as Avalon, asking us to end the week to the sound of Latin American drums. Indeed, using the word “debauchery” in an advertising blurb is certainly a novel, but rather exciting, way to release a ball on the student mob. The blend of English teas and Brazilian coffee that is due at the end of the night embodies the blend of traditional Cambridge luxury and tropical magic Corpus is aiming for.

Eddie’s might be the only May Ball to offer karaoke. It is certainly the only one to suggest “Cuban Carribean Fancy Dress” as an acceptable alternative to the sacred black tie. The night promises to be fun and unpretentious and, as the cheapest ball anywhere in Cambridge, might be a not-too-frivolous extra to any May Ball week planner.

Ball Prices

Clare - £105
Corpus Christi - £98
Downing - £94
Emmanuel - £102
St Edmunds - £55
Homerton - £95
Hughes Hall - £70
Jesus - £95
St John’s - £240 (double)
King’s - £52
Magdalene - £250 (double)
Newnham - £90
Pembroke - £95
Queens - £115
Robinson - £65
Trinity - £235 (double)
Trinity Hall - £52

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