‘Midgard’ (aka the Sundial Garden), home of earthly delights ’n’ cheeseLouis Ashworth

Wolfson’s debut May Ball had a lot to prove. Located just beyond Newnham, the College battled against the inertia of students who might see it as too far out for the 5am walk home, and also to find a way of grabbing people’s interest at the end of May Week. With a slew of cancellations of other events, and the intriguing theme ‘Valhalla’, it set out its stall for Friday-night festivities.

Valhalla, in Norse mythology, has a slightly contested etymology, but popular agreement would suggest it refers to a hall in Asgard, presided over by Odin and filled with those who have died gloriously in battle. In a year where two events were set to have the theme ‘Reverie’, it was a decidedly metal theme choice by Wolfson. It was also a hard one to pull off, not least because (as any Wolfson formal-goer can tell you), the College is not blessed with the prettiest of halls.

As with most May Week themes, it was only semi-realised: you might be told you are entering Midgard (“the realm of mortal pleasures”), but what you’re getting is the mac ’n’ cheese van, a Novi stand and some doughnuts. Nonetheless, small Norse touches served to brighten things up, and most of the decor was tasteful, in particular the colourfully-lit trees. The only exception to this was the rune-covered drapes lining a back corridor in the main building: lit by oscillating strobes, they undoubtedly put the “trip” in “toilet trip” for a few ball-goers.

Ticketing was well-managed, with a opportunity to grab wristbands earlier in the day cutting wait timesLouis Ashworth
Novi drinks were plentiful and of a very high standardLouis Ashworth
Revellers queue for pizzaLouis Ashworth

Activities, as was the case with Wolfson’s June Event last year, were rock-solid – if a little weighted towards physical activity. In particular, the ball pit, ‘battle field’ (hitting each other with padded clubs) and archery tag were fun: it’s a pity that diversions of this type aren’t standard across all May Week events. The ball pit, accessed via the strobe corridor, proved near-disastrous to your intrepid reviewer, who managed to lose two phones, two University cards, one pair of glasses, and his dignity.

Queueing throughout the night was well-managed. So often the distinguishing mark between May Balls and June Events, revellers really only put themselves at risk of a long wait if they opted for the much-desired mac ’n’ cheese van: waits for pizza were short, and an Urban Shed van serving vegetarian food had virtually no queue. The food and drink were also of an excellent quality: freshly-made pizza and Novi cocktails were particular highlights.

Oddly, the headliners – reggae outfit Inner Circle – were on at the beginning of the night. I missed their set entirely, something which I suspect was the case for quite a few people. I’m quite sure this was related to the band’s availability, but it was an odd choice. Musical ents elsewhere were solid, with indie-rock covers from Circus Mind a particular standout. Although their performance was not perfect (the singer appeared to completely forget the lyrics to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ ‘Can’t Stop’, resorting instead to repeating the chorus), the choices were sound: Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand had the dance floor packed unusually early, a tribute to the enduring power of simply opting for crowd-pleasing bangers.

Literally the Norse god Odin, with his raven BettyLouis Ashworth
I now have lots of Clinique samplesLouis Ashworth
DJs on decks at the Ragnarok StageLouis Ashworth

Strangely, the same logic wasn’t at work in the silent disco: though there was a smattering of crowd-pleasers, the musical choices were a little mixed. Or, rather, a little too mixed – often, the transitions between tracks were extended, which seems at odds with how silent discos tend to work: you want the feeling of everyone suddenly buzzing from a big track switch, not telling your friend to switch to the red channel because it sounds like ‘Brimful of Asha’ is going to be happening in about two minutes’ time.

Add to this that many of the songs were of the nostalgic/crowd-pleaser genre, but fairly second-tier. In most instances, this was because they were classics, but not singalong classics: a lot of Fatboy Slim falls into this category. This meant one of the best bits of silent disco – singing along at the top of your lungs, knowing you look like an idiot to the outside, but in total solidarity and unison with your fellow-channelers – was lost.

Overall, Wolfson May Ball was an event of a consistently high quality. Nothing stood out as a single exceptional part, but a combination of good activities, ents, food and drinks, none encumbered by extensive queuing, solidified it as a top-flight ball experience. An important extra thing to note here is the price: at under £100 a ticket, it was firmly in June Event price territory (and bursary ticket discounts were offered).


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Without wanting to go too deeply into the undoubtedly complex economics of may ball ticket pricing, Wolfson easily landed at the level of quality one would expect from a £150 central college ball: raising the question of whether ticket price inflation is starting to really hit consumer value.

That’s a question for future years, however: on the matter at hand, Wolfson showed it can punch above its weight, and in future years should be a solid contender for those looking to end their May Week with a bang.

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