Scale and substance...emily chan

There was a buzz in the air at John’s on Tuesday night as streams of guests flowed from court to court, moving to the sounds of jazz bands and a capella groups. The ball space is vast, with each nook and cranny crammed with things to see. The overwhelming scale of John’s is what sets it apart from the rest – but the night wasn’t without disappointments, particularly when it came to the headline act Katy B, who by my reckoning was only on stage for about half an hour.

Our first stop of the night was the food. If John’s May Ball was going to win over this girl’s heart then the way to do it was through culinary means. The variety and quantity on offer far outreached that at Trinity last year, from fish and chips to mac ‘n’ cheese to freshly made sushi. Some unusual dishes also graced the menu: the seaweed salad was surprisingly refreshing, while an exotic stall offered up camel meatball pitas and crocodile skewers. Unfortunately I can’t report back on what camel tastes like – the queue for it remained lengthy throughout the night – but perhaps camel is the new swan?

The breakfast of bacon butties and scrambled egg ciabattas wasn’t particularly groundbreaking in itself, but the good news was that there appeared to be plenty for everyone. That seemed to apply to most of the food tents, which continued serving well into the early hours of the morning. Even the champagne kept flowing right until the end of the ball.

While the fireworks were a classy affair – the only criticism being that the music could have been louder – some things lacked refinement. Little details like the programme let the high standards elsewhere slip a bit, with the ‘Atlantis’ page resembling a Microsoft Office desktop background and the scattered literary quotes meaning that the whole thing looked a bit amateurish.

Questions of taste also come about with aspects of the Lost Worlds theme. I couldn’t quite work out whether the ship in Second Court was gimmicky or brilliant, but either way the wannabe Leonardos and Kates seemed to be having fun. Something about the ‘Ottoman Empire’ area (the bar and buttery) seemed a bit off, and the space wasn’t used to best effect. In fact, it was the snaking queues for the ladies’ and, more surprisingly, the gents’ loos outside the bar that really stood out.

Other design aspects were a lot more successful: the Hall looked magnificent in its ancient Greek grandeur, while the beach area in the Chapel Court complete with deck chairs was a nice touch. The Chinese lanterns added that bit of magic as we entered the college grounds, with the aesthetics team making full use of the impressive architectural backdrop.

There are obvious downsides to such a large ball: bottlenecks arise when people are moving en masse from one court to another due to the narrow pathways, and the queues will always be lengthy for the most popular tents. It is difficult to judge John’s against other May balls: on the sheer scale of the event and quantity of things to eat, drink and do, it’s undoubtedly the best. But there’s still room for improvement.