There is a particular frisson to the Mermaids Christmas Ball that you either love or hate— and, generally, people belonging to the latter party are people who have cold memories of sitting in the rain at 3am. Thankfully they made the decision to move to online ticket sales which, while causing a lot of controversy, meant there weren’t students dying of hypothermia clogging up the streets in the early hours of a Scottish winter morning. In a St Andrews with events failing left, right and centre, Christmas Ball will never not sell out; something the Mermaids are right to be thrilled with, as it enables them to take shows to the Fringe every summer in the name of #art.
This being my fourth and final Christmas Ball, my expectations were sky-high; I have seen the big purple Willy Wonka bridge, Narnia’s wardrobe, the Great Hall— being a ball put on by the theatre kids is no bad thing when it comes to setting. This year was The Nightmare Before Christmas. Harry Potter was always going to be a tough act to follow; going for an entirely different aesthetic was a good move and, anyway, had all the Americans incredibly excited.
There was nothing about it that lent itself to outright criticism. All the classics were there that an old woman like me was looking for nostalgically. The things that would have delighted any Fresher as original and fun; the marquee entrance with prosecco and chocolate fountains, the Janetta’s ice-cream trolly, Santa’s grotto, the upside-down christmas trees, the Alleycats singing on arrival. It was well organised, the buses were on time, everyone was the right level of drunk. The problem I found with it was that I could not help but note a lack of thematic continuity or creativity in executing it. It borrowed from previous Christmas Balls, which was nice, but aside from a few gravestones in the main body of Kinkell and some (albeit beautiful) characters lining the walls, there was nothing that really shocked or surprised in the way of previous years, and the marquee was not on theme at all.
That being said, even if it was following a set pattern, that set pattern is a good one. The music was brilliant; Jazz Works and Pink Eye on Picture Day were fantastic openings for those lucky enough to be there on time, with special mention going to the phenomenal vocals of Valentine Moscovisci and Jonathan Hewitt respectively. Radio One’s Chris Stark was a nice headliner, although he did interrupt a lot of good songs to remind us that he was, indeed, from Radio One with a lot of pride.
AND. THE. FOOD. Janetta’s is of course a classic, and I dug enthusiastically into a double-scoop of christmas pudding and cookie dough with a face full of ice cream that made me glad I was there before the masses. But special mention, and indeed I want their name engraved on my gravestone in reverence of their brilliance, goes to the Toastie stall. For the meagre price of £4 I ate the best creation of christmas leftovers and brie toasted into delicious perfection.
Christmas Ball will always be, in my eyes, the best St Andrews event. It has a formula that has not failed; whimsy, imagination, and good execution. I hope next year there are more of the first two and the latter remains as watertight as it has been every year. Well done to the committee for another brilliant event, and I hope they manage to send as many good shows to the Fringe as last year.
All photos courtesy of Lightbox