A stunning spectacle worthy of welcoming Southampton's newest students
Crossing the road from Hartley Library, the fluorescent flashing lights emitting from the square outside the Students’ Union building were as imposing as those on Brighton Pier. On the approach, more similarities to the UK’s hub of seaside entertainment came into view with attractions including a busy bumper car stall and a humorously nauseating selection of theme park-style rides. The sound of freshers welcoming in a new phase of life at Southampton was muffled only by the roaring, defiant falsetto of Keala Settle in the finale hit of original movie-musical of the decade, The Greatest Showman, ‘From Now On’.
Before the university shop, posing with an impressive display of true showman grandeur, was the south of England’s very respectable answer to legendary nineteenth century entertainer P.T. Barnum. Unmissable in his glittery, deep-red waistcoat, he was undeniably the star of the circus-themed evening. Performing magical stunts which were certainly enhanced in presentation by the hyperbolic reaction of intoxicated onlookers, the Barnum tribute act unfortunately saw himself facing gradually depleting audience numbers as the bitter October cold set in. Though a regrettable result for the popularity of outdoor attractions, the image of crowds piling into the Union building as a result built a tingling sense of anticipation for what was in store.
In the foyer, a rather warmer atmosphere was presented to animated partygoers by the Union’s display of faux grass and fairy lights illuminating the figurative night sky. Elaborate sets of tables and chairs were placed in front of a large screen projecting on repeat the film of the evening (with sing-along features enabled, of course), adding to the pleasantly nostalgic feel of an eighties outdoor cinema event. If alcohol consumption acted to inhibit memories of this elegant setting, a convenient free photo booth drew in groups, couples, and confident individuals alike.
To the right of the screening was an enticing corridor calling revellers into the circus, duly lined with sparkling signs, model animals, and, deeper into the experience, a spacious dance floor with an exclusive DJ to fill the room with remixes of modern hits. However, this area was sparsely attended through the night, likely due to the fact that the more alert attendees had located the real highlight of the Freshers’ Ball 2018, the underground silent disco.
This quirky concept was embraced by all guests, who were moving to one of two channels, one for fans of throwback disco hits, another playing contemporary dance songs. The silent disco, a concept often misconceived as an antisocial affair, brought all participants together to one beat, a uniting force that whisked listeners away to the worlds of George Michael, Idina Menzel, and, of course, ABBA. And if the organisers of this aural experience of surrealism were attempting to help freshers forget the incoming semester of study, Mariah Carey made an unexpected appearance to remind us that Christmas is only two months away.
Finally, there was the most characteristic room of the night: acrobats and magicians owned The Cube whilst smoke machines contributed towards an atmosphere of mystical awe. This hypnagogic hubbub of truly Showman-esque pandemonium would have been well placed in P.T. Barnum’s Museum of Curiosities, though this festival of sights and sounds felt very much alive.
When the advertising video for The Greatest Freshers’ Ball was released, there was concern that the Students’ Union were perhaps overreaching, selling a product that could not live up to expectations. At £30 per ticket, pressure was on organisers to sell top level entertainment. The night certainly did not disappoint, and there was clear evidence of genuine effort to ensure that the university’s newest intake were given an unforgettable initiation into the very current, lively nightlife of such a historic city and university. Students were not given a conventional Freshers’ Ball in Southampton this year, but in the words of the great showman himself, ‘no one ever made a difference by being like everyone else’.
Watch the official advert for The Greatest Freshers’ Ball 2018 below.