The Dome – my favourite stage at BATS – is strewn with an array of clothing items and wooden frames, with a sheet-draped couch in the centre where I suspect Katene is hiding out. I’m right, but not everyone in the audience has picked it, and it’s a thrill to hear the room erupt when a torch switches on and Katene starts contorting herself into a pretty impressive wheel pose before tearing the sheet off and launching into some fast-paced physical theatre. It’s the high-energy start to a show about fatigue that I can’t say I was expecting, but it’s fantastic. One wooden frame is moved to mark out a shower cubicle while the other is suspended to become a mirror; she gives us a solo on the air guitar. And then the crash hits. The fatigue sets in.
Katene isn’t wrong when she says we might see some of our own pathways reflected. I’m writing this a little groggy on the back of a 7pm nap, which feels appropriate – I don’t have chronic fatigue, but I am a chronic insomniac, and when you pair that with my high likelihood of neurodivergence, there’s a lot in this show that I can relate to. It’s in the construction noises outside Katene’s house and her admission that ‘at this point, even the fresh air is ableist’. It’s in the immensely accurate depiction of dissociating mid-conversation and trying to find sense in the few words that aren’t drowned out. It’s in having to be sympathetic to the friend who says it took them an hour to fall asleep last night.
To see 3 Steps Back is to see someone unapologetically inhabit her own skin. It’s refreshing to see someone unmasked on stage. Katene tells us that one of the things she struggles with most with her CFS is the pathway from her brain to her mouth. She blunders a couple of her lines right after, drawing complete blanks, and honestly, this is what brings the whole experience home. Intended or not, it gives the show a metatextual layer, and it’s a joy to see her not try to mask herself. After her final song (which is stunning and gives me genuine shivers – what a voice!), she puts down the mic by mistake and then high-fives stage manager Salome Grace’s hand when they reach through the curtain to collect it. There are full cackles in the audience. Katene has a huge amount of charm.
This show is everything I don’t expect: it’s intimate, it’s angry, it’s sexy as heck. At times the script gets a little wordy and might benefit from a knife to some of the adjectives, but for a development season, I struggle to find much else to critique. The few blips that do happen might just be down to opening night and the show being not yet well oiled, but they truly enhance the experience, and I’d encourage Katene to resist any urge to try and iron them out, if there is one.
3 Steps Back is a must-see, and it’s showing at BATS theatre at 9pm until Sunday, 26 February. Book your tickets on the BATS website.