Review: The Union Ball ‘Oxford and the Chocolate Factory’


Having had to clean my suit especially for the Union Ball (with the traditional frantic search for anyone with a black tie they could lend me), I was expecting great things from the evening. The Ball, I am glad to say, did not disappoint. Themed as ‘Oxford and the Chocolate Factory’, stepping into the hallowed halls was like stepping into a giant box of chocolates. Although the entrance through Frewin Court felt slightly unglamorous, giving guests the surreal experience of walking past the Purple Turtle relatively sober and in a suit, once inside there was a host of surprises left, right and centre.

After being greeted by a sparkling reception of champagne, with glasses being pushed on us like they were trying to get rid of the stuff, we were led into a huge tent, taking up nearly the whole of the Union’s court and giving the odd impression that the debating chamber had expanded overnight. The walls were draped in black and deep purple fabric and the ceiling dotted with small lights that winked down at the crowd below, who were already mingling, chatting and doing what Union members do best- networking. I slid past a dozen people trying to introduce themselves and made my way to the free cocktail bar. After all, it was my duty to Cherwell to try absolutely everything on offer- especially if it was all alcoholic.

As the evening continued I was surprised again and again by the wonderful experiences put on by the Ball to entertain and engage the guests: a series of jazz bands struck up at regular intervals, allowing the chatting crowds to break off into groups of tipsy dancers. The music was kept to a pleasant background level as photographers weaved amongst people, and we even bumped into a talkative magician who was wandering through the crowds, confounding the guests- which must have got steadily easier as the cocktail bar was emptied. There were photo opportunities everywhere, reminding everyone of the chocolate factory theme with a huge photo booth in the upstairs of the Union building filled with giant candy canes and lollipops for guests to pose with. At points it seemed you couldn’t move for a photographer trying to capture the moment. In a further room was, according to the adverts, the ‘world’s largest’ chocolate fountain- it was certainly large enough to leave most unsuspecting guests with smudges on their jackets they’d be rubbing at for weeks afterwards. 


The success of the Union Ball, organised by the adept Henna Dattani, is shown by the speed with which the event sold out. I was surprised by the sheer amount of distractions on offer- after a delicious box of curry from the Alpha Bar, which had set up a food stall in the courtyard alongside a stand giving away free crepes drizzled in chocolate and strawberries, we spent far too long lounging in a decadently draped hookah lounge. Here I found myself sharing a pipe with people from all over Oxford and beyond, puffing at flavoured shisha and discussing the evening. The night finished with a silent disco in the debating chamber until 1.30am, and although we were offered the unenviable choice of Disney medleys or 2000s teenage disco hits, the hilarity of dancing around the Union debating chamber in headphones more than made up for it.

I was told afterwards that the mix of huge amounts of alcohol and the chocolate shots handed round at midnight ‘disagreed’ with many of the guests, though it must have been closely controlled by the staff as we never saw any disturbances. This epitomised the smoothness with which the event ran- one experience led smoothly into another as the evening wore on. We left that night full of food, drunken and very happy- a wonderful night in the chocolate box that was the Union Ball. 


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