Here at WhichMayBall, we stand for the truth.
Ok, we stand for an easy source of ball dates, prices and rumours, but the truth is definitely in there somewhere. So, full disclosure: I am reviewing my own College’s ball.
I love Fitz. Yes, it may be made entirely of concrete, and yes, it's far away from almost anywhere interesting or useful, but at least it’s not Churchill. Being at Fitz during the ball set up was like being a kid on Christmas Eve, wondering if Dad will come home and hoping Mum will be the happy kind of drunk. Cold cynical detachment was difficult. As a result, it was with a little trepidation that I agreed to review Fitz’s Winter Ball. What would I say if it was crap?
Luckily, I didn’t need to worry, as it was great. All in all, definitely one of the better ways I've spent an evening in Cambridge (that I can mention in print).
The theme of the ball was Saturnalia, a Roman festival associated with the reversal of social norms. Initially I thought this theme sounded a little pretentious, a little too Cambridge, and I wondered how it could ever possibly work. It didn’t take me long to realise how wrong I was. The whole ball showed a strong adherence to theme, which imbued it with a unique and at some times madcap atmosphere.
The dining experience was like eating something made by the love child of Tim Burton and Heston Blumenthal who had been made to live in a box and not been allowed to socialize with the other children.
The meal began with a savory and salty cake, with cream cheese instead of icing. It was a party in my mouth, but everyone had come in the wrong clothes and some people had put their car keys into a bowl and then just stood there waiting. This was followed by surf and turf, or for vegetarians, ‘egg and chips’ both of which were good. Finally, ending on a high, dessert; a sweet ‘breakfast’ of crème brûlée scrambled eggs on brioche toast. This was weird, but the good kind of weird. Like realizing Rowan Williams was also a world class pogo stick champion, not that he was one of the people standing around, car keys in the bowl, at the party I mentioned earlier.
I wouldn’t be a reviewer if I couldn’t nitpick. The annoying queue to read the seating arrangements on the single board on which they were printed in ten point font was less ball and more airport for people with really good eyesight. The waiting time between courses was also a little too long for comfort; then again, maybe I’m just a boring dinner companion.
The rest of the ball stretched out before me like tinsel on a council estate. The four main performance venues, the Underworld, Elysium, the Winter Solstice bar and the Forum boasted live acts from 9pm until 4am, with standout performances by Fitz Swing, Fitz Barbershop, Redburn and Peters, and others.
The Hoosiers, the Winter Ball's big name headliner, gave a competent performance of the three songs that we all know and love, together with a load off their new album that were actually kind of good, to a packed and buzzing crowd in the Underworld.
The Forum, set up to be like an actual Roman forum with the ‘stage’ in the middle, didn’t seem to quite work as a performance space, and it became quite difficult to see and hear the acts at times.
Non-dining food and drink were impressive, with a huge variety and quite a few vegetarian options available, with my own particular highlights being the elk burgers available from Wildfeast and the delicious crepes. The pizza from Fired Up Pizza was good, but slightly disappointing, and the cocktails from Cocktail Box were very underwhelming. It’s lucky there were so many other sources for drink.
In addition to the standard ball entertainments, Fitz had more up its sleeve. Neptune’s Maze and the Sacrifice Citadel were the more bizarre offerings.
Neptune’s Maze was an indoor labyrinth with a bar offering shots of blue lagoon at its end. When I went round, a guy was running around shouting
“I’m Harry Potter, I’m Harry Potter! Don’t ruin this for me!”
He gets it, I thought. It was a weird and wonderful experience.
The Sacrifice Citadel, on the other hand, was like something out of a PG certificate Saw movie; a continuous loop of monster movie footage playing in a red lit room in which piñatas were released from the ceiling and the crowds baying for blood were allowed to smash out their candy filled brains every hour. As an emotionally repressed white male, being able to kick a papier-mâché horse to death probably delayed my murderous rampage by a few months. As the homicidal rage subsided, I noticed that it might have been executed better, with the backdrop falling a little flat.
All in all, it was a great ball. There was real creative energy that ran through its whole design, and although some elements didn’t come off entirely, that’s the price you pay for experimentation. The seam of theme running through it all made it an enjoyable and memorable experience, and the variety and spacing meant that, for most parts, queuing wasn’t too annoying and there was always something to do.
Now for the scores…
Value for Money: 3/5
A veteran ball goer reliably informs me, that this was about average.
Great variety of acts and amusements, something good running all through the ball.
Food and Drink: 4/5
A good variety of both dining and non-dining food and drink.
Vegetarian Rating: 3.5 / 5
Some food stalls seemed very meat orientated but there was to be a decent amount for 'carnivorally challenged' guests to get their teeth into.