The days have become shorter, the temperature has dropped and the students of St Andrews have entered the revision week panic; winter is coming! After what seemed like years of anticipation, this past weekend, the community of St Andrews was able to welcome back one of the most iconic events that the University has to offer: Mermaids’ Christmas Ball. Every year, Christmas Ball sells out in seconds with the wishful search for resales plaguing the class Facebook pages for the weeks leading up to the event. This year was no exception. To holster the anticipation and ignite the holiday spirit, Mermaids chose what the committee called ‘the most Christmassy’ theme of all: A Night at the Nutcracker. As a former pre-professional dancer who has had her fair share of Nutcracker performances, I was beyond thrilled to see what the St Andrews Performing Arts Fund had in store at their Kingdom of Sweets.
I woke up on Sunday to snow on the ground and was instantly lifted into the Christmas spirit, the perfect precursor to the Christmas Ball. Having read-up on the event’s announcements and inspired by my previous experiences at Christmas Ball, my excitement for the night to come was through the snow-covered roof. Mermaids spent months organising several performers and DJs to entertain the myriad of guests that will soon crowd the iconic Kinkell Byre: Jazz Works, DJs Albion and Tim Berger, the Hummingbirds, and fan-favourite, the Other Guys. Needless to say, Mermaids had prepared an evening packed full of entertainment.
The time came and over a thousand dolled-up students arrived at the Union for the pre-event which was nothing more than a decorated queue for the busses to Kinkell Byre. The journey to Kinkell Byre typically only takes ten minutes, however after speaking with several people at the event, this was not the case. A few of the guests who were fortunate enough to get a space on the bus reported being trapped on the crowded coach for upwards of forty-five minutes while waiting to unload only to be rewarded with additional queuing in the freezing air upon their arrival.
As with most events, Kinkell Byre was decorated beautifully. Mermaids spared no detail when putting together their Night at the Nutcracker with grandiose Christmas trees, sparkling snow, twinkling lights and candy galore! However, I wish that the event itself matched the holiday energy that the committee worked so hard to prepare. The event peaked near the beginning when the free champagne was in hand, the crêpes were warm and Jazz Works was rocking the main stage. They had immaculate vibes and had a set that kept the crowd moving and grooving! With a mixture of holiday music and famous ‘tik-tok’ songs, Jazz Works knew exactly how to start the evening off strong.
For those fortunate enough to know the layout of Kinkell Byre, you could seek refuge from your aching feet in the hidden Kingdom of Sweets. There, you could take some time to catch up with friends, snack on the bounty of candy and queue up for the complimentary crêpes, all while listening to the student acapella groups. Unfortunately, most of the attendees missed out on this experience as the crêpes and live music was only available to the handful of guests who wandered to the tent before 22:30. After this, the Kingdom of Sweets transformed into a room for recuperation that featured dozens of attendees chatting at decorated tables with the occasional song playing in the background.
Back on the main dancefloor, the DJs tried to keep the energy going with their rave-style music, however their efforts were not rewarded with enthusiasm. As I looked around, the dance floor became increasingly stationary as guests checked their watches and phones for the time. Given the whole premise of the event, I expected significantly more holiday anthems than what were offered. Thankfully, at the strike of midnight, DJ Albion took the stage and offered the tired crowd a breath of fresh air with songs that we could finally sing along to at the top of our lungs. For a few moments, the music resuscitated the dance floor back to life!
Beyond the performers, Mermaids announced that there would be a bounty of food and drink options amongst their cash bar and vendors Mac Love, Screaming Peacock and La Creperie. I was only able to find two of the three announced vendors, and as I inquired about the third food option, I was met with frustrated mac and cheese enthusiasts who also had failed endeavours in search of the beloved food truck.
Between the crowded yet seemingly unmoving dancefloor, typical inflated drink prices, transport fiasco, lack of food and repetitive music choices, I was not surprised that there was a mass exodus of guests at 00:30. This was a shame as I could tell that the committee had planned well for this event and sought out a night to remember. If the event was shorter, I truly believe that the guests would have undeniably enjoyed themselves as the activities and performers would have left the group wanting more. In addition to this, the absence of cellular reception and wifi brought a sense of frustration to the evening. I know that this is outside the jurisdiction of the event itself but I would like to draw attention to the fact that you are not able to communicate with anyone once you enter the event space; I wish you the best of luck if you lose your group!
Overall, the night was lacklustre. Perhaps I had too high of expectations from my previous experiences at past, exceptional Christmas Balls but regardless of this, the evening did not equate to the ticket price. This opinion was shared with several attendees that I chatted with both at the event itself and on the complimentary bus back. However, I believe that this year’s Christmas Ball was an exception; their efforts did not go unnoticed as demonstrated through their extensive performer lineup and magical, Nutcracker décor. Given this, I anticipate that future Mermaids events will return to their usual, high calibre standard that the St Andrews community knows and loves.