Ill Lit ★★★★

Ill Lit features Kasia Zawadzka returning to the Manipulate Festival with a new self-suspension rope performance exploring mental health.

Having previously delivered the performance online, Polish rope suspension artist, Kasia Zawadzka, returned to Edinburgh’s MANIPULATE Festival with a live production of Ill Lit, her mediation on mental health.

Beginning the performance already suspended in the air, Zawadzka is encased in a plastic bag. When she finally breaks free, her face is covered in slime. That slime might represent the mask we all have to put on when we have to deal with everyday life challenges. Ill Lit’s central theme is dealing with the voices in your head that aren’t saying what you need to hear. 

Image by Donald-Dalziel

A master practitioner of the Japanese rope bondage art of Shibari, Zawadzka spends the performance spinning, stretching, twisting and contorting. Frequently, she’s suspended in midair. At other times, she’s on the ground, crawling on the floor. But even here, she’s constricted by the ropes. 

A key sequence in Ill Lit involves a therapy session, where Zawadzka takes on the character of Walter, who is given a series of directions by the therapist. ‘Walter’ seems to know what to do even before these are given, however. Another comment on the banality of repetition and how it can diminish our spirit? 

Running at a tight 38-minutes, Ill Lit is a frequently-grueling and often-shocking experience. The soundtrack is a rather cliched example of what ‘dark’ sounds like, and the production would have benefited from having a less obvious accompaniment. It’s quite the accomplishment, however,  to communicate so eloquently without using dialogue. And Zawadzka’s brave and committed performance tells us so much about how suffocating mental health struggles can be…

A high-flying, thought- provoking ★★★★ 4 stars