I commence with a copout.
I don't pretend to be able to speak for everybody. But I think the success of a ball depends on how well it allows everyone to have a good time, regardless of how niche they are.
I, myself, am an uncool, gay American, hardly representative. Thus in the interest of fair reviewing, I made sure to ask a bunch of other people what they thought in order to properly score the ball (That's right bitches, I just split that infinitive. Come at me.). In the meantime, here is my account of the ball, brought to you by fabulosity, overenthusiasm, innuendo and a nigh on fetishisation of food and drink. Enjoy.
"The first hour was amazing, a testament in equal measure to the diversity of the ball and the fantastic value of queue jump. Seriously, kids, always queue jump. I stuffed myself with all the meat I could find, enjoyed some banana and berries, went down on my knees for some vodka luge and got rammed repeatedly from behind in the dodgems. Plus I lusted over a lychee cocktail which set my loins alight while I listened to the sound of Hollaback Girl playing from the cocktail tent. I was in heaven."
The theme of the ball was "Elemental: Revel in the Fourfold Roots of Everything", with the grounds divided into different sections dedicated to water, earth, air and fire. It rained on and off throughout the night, almost as if planned to tie in with this theme. The committee graciously provided copious amounts of earth to stand on and air to breathe, although they seemed to think that mixing drunk students with raging pyrotechnics was for some reason a bad idea.
The decoration was subtle and well thought out. Each section was lit in colours reflecting its element. Air was decorated inside with balloons and outside with hanging cotton clouds. There a few water features dotted around the water section, and God help me, I love a good water feature. But I did feel like the decoration could have been laid on a bit thicker because most of it was quite nuanced. Granted, my people brought the world wacky wavy inflatable arm-flailing tube men; I have an affinity for the in-your-face, but a nice compromise would've been awesome.
The food and drink were varied and copious, and I'm giving style points for linking them to the theme. Cotton candy and bubbly cocktails were found in the air section; water provided seafood and vodka shots drunk from ice sculptures, while live fish in a fish tank looked on with dismay and horror. In earth was found a mudslide cocktail and real ale tent to wash down your smoky BBQ. Fire has to win though. Hot drinks of tea and coffee, fiery cocktails and shots, spicy curry... they even had a food stall called Sausage Fest. It's like they were BEGGING me to like them.
What made this ball stand out, though, was the ents. There really was something for everyone; the main stage was always full, and there were plenty of fun activities to keep you busy. Cool people were very into LIttle Comets, one of the three fairly well known headliners. I am not cool, so I just stood nearby eating a donut while I listened a bit, but even I could tell they were good. For the first time at a ball, I knew one of the acts, Becky Hill, because I used to watch the Voice when it was only a little unacceptable to do so; I stayed for her whole set, which was truly on point.
There was far too much other music for me to talk about it all, but needless to say, whatever your interests, they were covered. String quartet, classical piano, small folk sets, funk band, jazz, silent disco pop classics, techno; you would have to put in a lot of active effort not to like something on offer. Izzy Rodol in particular was a revelation. A Pembroke local, she secured a large audience of friends and soon-to-be fans with her amazing vocals. By the end of her set, I was telling everyone how good she was while internally screaming "YAAAAAAAS QUEEN!" She is very much one to watch.
In terms of non-musical activities, Pembroke offered a wider range than I'd ever seen at a ball. Alex Paige wins the prize for first comedian to get me to genuinely laugh at a ball instead of sitting there really awkwardly wondering how long is polite to stay before walking out. I'd seen mini golf, dodgems, massages and caricatures before, but ping pong, pool, henna and a Ferris wheel were firsts for me. Oh, yeah, and did I mention there was MOTHERFUCKING LASER TAG?! Because there was, and I freaked out. It was even worth the massive queue.
In case you're oblivious to tone and implication, I had quite a nice time. But it wasn't perfect. There were some problems with food and drink running out quickly, noticeably the curry, morning bacon, vodka shots and main stage cocktails. Certain lines, such as for the Ferris wheel, laser tag and some cocktails, were rather long. While they did very well fitting everything into the space they had, it meant I had to be quite diligent keeping track of the rotating food stalls and acts. The tent by the main stage ended up being a trip hazard for some, but I consider that one of the finer ents acts, watching a guy trip, drop his drink and faceplant in the resulting puddle. One of my friends also claims to have seen a large rat in that tent, so that's really quite gross.
But despite these small gripes, I knew this was a ball well done. As we were leaving after the survivors' photo, they were still handing out champagne at the champagne bar. And any ball that can keep a champagne river flowing to satisfy Cambridge ballers for nine hours has won a moral victory indeed.
Value for Money: 3.5/5
I've been to better value for money, but it's helped out by two big headliners and good diversity.
The ents were very good. Something for everyone, and almost always of great quality. The only thing missing was Beyoncé.
Food and Drink: 3.5/5
There was a lot of variety and good thought went into tying it all into the theme. It could perhaps have done with a few more 'sustenance' options like paella or pizza. Non-drinkers also had limited options.
Only the seafood tent seemed not to be vegetarian friendly (but there's no avoiding that really). A range of allergens were also usually provided for most dishes.
A very good ball with a reputation which precedes itself. It doesn't go for the massive production of Trinity or Johns, and people love the atmosphere.