In January 2001 I arrived in Hamburg to begin the job of a lifetime. I was going to be Grizabella in Cats. Yes, I had made it. On my arrival at Hamburg airport I was asked to pull a key out of a hat - that key would tell me where I would be staying for the next two weeks of rehearsal.
My key said Wandsbek and I was taken with only four others to what can perhaps best be described as a derelict apartment building. Dark slightly rancid hallways with rows and rows of doors on either side - doors that led to rooms of nothing. This was not what we had signed up for. One German girl left immediately preferring to sleep on a friend‘s couch. A French performer with two cats preferred to stay – logic being that it would not be noticed if the cats strengthened the smell of the place somewhat. A quieter German girl decided to stay also. I just stood there confused and bewildered. This was the beginning of my dream job? Was this the ‘comfortable accommodation’ I had been promised in my contract? I had no friends in Hamburg to escape to. I was stuck. My Japanese friend ventured down the dark hallway to her room only to run back and stop me from unpacking. In the end we never slept there – we took our suitcases along with us to dinner with the company manager that night. We then followed her pleading and begging to her hotel. The next day she found a room for us to share at the Reeperbahn Apartments where the rest of the cast was staying. We ended up with the best apartment in the house – the luxury penthouse. The actual Reeperbahn in comparison to Wandsbek was comforting with its bustle and lights.
What then followed were two weeks of rehearsal and two weeks of grey skies and fog. When I wasn’t rehearsing I spent my time wandering alone between the Reeperbahn and the Neue Flora, or just wandering the Reeperbahn to the Operettenhaus and back. The latter I would have liked to do more often, but it was a time of unrest for the workers at the Operettenhaus and they were striking. We got to see only one performance of Cats before we left for Stuttgart to continue rehearsals and set up the show there. It was a performance packed with the raw energy and frustration of the dark few weeks preceding it – unrestrained, fearless and proud.
Perhaps I was in Hamburg merely to work my way even deeper into the character of Grizabella - to experience the ‘Burnt out ends of smokey days, the stale cold smell of morning’. Whatever it was, the Reeperbahn was the perfect place for me to imagine a tribe of mangy alley cats, each fighting for the right to be this year’s chosen one. The one chosen to leave the dumpster of life and go on up to the Heavyside Layer and the promise of a new day and a new beginning.
originally published in Currents June/July 2008