Sam and Romilly clash over gatecrashing, themes, and headlinersChristopher Lorde for Varsity

As May Week approaches, Sam and Romilly go head to head on everything May Balls have to offer, from Tinie Tempah to the Titanic.

Breaking into May Balls


You may feel bitter towards people who have managed to successfully sneak into a May Ball you’ve shelled out 200 quid for, but you have to admire them. I don’t think I could ever attempt crashing a May Ball, beyond my physical disadvantage of being the height of a pool cue, I simply am too chicken to attempt anything of the sort. But instead of condemning those who do what I can’t, I think I’ll choose to live vicariously through these opportunistic chancers.

My opinion is that if you manage to successfully pull off crashing a May Ball, you probably deserve to be there. Ball crashers don’t often ruin anyone’s fun, they’re just there to participate in the revelry like all the other attendees. And let’s be honest, there’s plenty to go round at a May Ball.

Some of the funniest parts of May Week are hearing people’s elaborate schemes on how they plan to get into a May Ball without queuing for a couple hours and the important part - not paying hundreds of pounds. How they intend to climb over walls, or swim with their clothes in bag, I don’t know, but I respect those willing to go to such extremes.

In an era of May Balls costing hundreds of pounds, why shouldn’t people take the opportunity to experience a quintessential Cambridge experience on a lower budget? They’ll get a much better story out of it.


Cambridge is full of vagabonds and rogues. One need only look at the Union to realise that. Yet of all the petty crimes Cambridge students commit, I find the May Ball gatecrash one of the more distasteful.

“May Ball gatecrashers are disrespecting the students on committee who sacrifice vast amounts of their time”

This is not, primarily, out of concern for those who buy their tickets honestly. Though prolific gatecrashing may make queues worse and deprive honest partygoers of parts of the May Ball experience, this tends not to be a regular occurrence. More fundamentally, however, May Ball gatecrashers are disrespecting the students who sacrifice vast amounts of their time to run events across May Week.

Having played a very minor role on Trinity Hall’s June Event committee, I have seen firsthand how stressful the May Ball evenings are for those who organise them. From dealing with performers going AWOL to organising emergency plumbing (I’ll spare you the details), the last thing a committee should be dealing with is dishonesty from their peers.

Really my central gripe is less so with individual chancers but the way in which gatecrashing is excused or even celebrated among the student body. It is often seen as an innocent bit of fun, a victimless crime, or even as some radical act of social justice. Instead of excusing those who undermine May Ball committees through their deception, we should spend a bit more time acknowledging those who actually make the May Balls possible in the first place.



Headliners are always a contentious topic in the run up to May Balls. For some they’re a deciding factor on where they decide to attend, others are just hoping that the headliner is half decent so the £250 they’ve spent isn’t completely wasted.

“How many people can say they’ve seen Dick and Dom do a DJ set?”

A headliner can make or break a May Ball, but that doesn’t mean they need to be a big name. They can be an opportunity to see someone live that you never would have otherwise. How many people can say they’ve seen Dick and Dom do a DJ set? All the people who went to Homerton May Ball last year can.

Can they be a bit superficial? Yes. Often May Balls book people with a couple of big hits, which can end in you standing for a whole set just to hear ‘Milkshake’. But sometimes committees pull it out the bag. This year we’ll have the likes of The Last Dinner Party and Tinie Tempah gracing the city in May Week.

Are headliners an opportunity for May Ball Committees to fluff their feathers? Quite possibly. But that doesn’t mean that the quintessential, one-hit wonder headliners should go. After all, when else will you see Boney M?


Much excitement in the lead up to May Week is generated by the reveal of headline performances. This is quite understandable. The prospect of going to a private (ish) concert from a big-name artist is electrifying.

Alas, all that glitters is not gold. The costs associated with fame tend to increase disproportionately. The biggest stars demand more security, better transport and accommodation, and not to mention higher pay. May Balls which spend more obtaining big name headliners naturally will have to make substantial cuts elsewhere.

In my experience, this is a compromise not worth making. Queues are the universal nemesis of May Balls and those with big headliners tend not to have the budget to mitigate them by hiring more staff. Last year’s balls at John’s and Trinity were indicative of this. While Trinity had Boney M (who were, admittedly, excellent), I spent much more time stuck in queues there than I did at John’s. Quantity ultimately beats out quality.

Perhaps my view of May Balls is too utilitarian and consumerist. If your favourite band or singer is performing at a particular Ball then perhaps it may well be worth copping a ticket. Yet this aside, I must caution against buying into the hype. Indeed, a mediocre headliner simply tends to be a sign that money has wisely been spent elsewhere.



May Ball themes, often the first thing announced by a committee, can build excitement, offer a nice guessing game for a week and can sometimes surprise you.

Now I’ll admit sometimes May Ball themes can be a bit generic and samey. That can be expected for yearly events that have been theming themselves for a decade.

But sometimes you get a theme that’s a little different (do I dare mention Churchill). This can be fun, giving you inspiration for an outfit and can make for a beautiful looking ball.

Themes can also be the source of controversy, whether that’s Titanic related or a headache for a college confession page admin. They can also be the source of misfortune, Sidney Sussex’s Venice themed May Ball, for example, apparently flooded some Jesus houses when they decided to drain the large water features they’d built.

Such incidents aside, you’ve got to love a theme. They pull a ball together. Without themes, May Balls might as well just be a couple of big tents and some bumper cars, a fancy summer fete if you will.


Themes at May Balls have become increasingly derivative. There seems to be an anxiety of influence among May Ball presidents pushing them to delve further into the thesaurus to find synonyms for essentially the same, broad thematic concept.

“Attempts to innovate on themes can end titanically badly”

Trinity Hall June Event’s theme in 2022 was “mirage”, last year it was “reverie”, and this year it is the “thirteenth hour”. While there are of course some minor differences between these themes, they all still fit under a broader, dream-related umbrella.


Mountain View

No, I won't bring my parents to lunch

This strategy is unsurprising. If one owns theme-related decorations from the previous year, it makes sound sense to try to reuse them. Indeed, as Churchill’s apocalyptic theme-related controversy or Pembroke’s unfortunately-timed sub-nautical theme demonstrated, attempts to innovate on themes can end titanically badly.

None of this is to criticise the May Ball presidents. It has simply become convention that all but the biggest May Balls have a theme and the presidents have to comply. So, I say we should help them out and end this tired exercise once and for all.