Baby Beryl – Steph Tisdell’s warmly relatable new show – is an ode to human connection; funny, weird, and at times wildly awkward. A self-professed novice at crowd-work, Tidsell nevertheless spends her entire hour on stage letting the audience guide her show, just to “see what will happen.”
Smart, quick, and deeply unashamed, Tisdell jumps from the outrageously funny to the confronting and back again, never shying away from “bad” language or a risqué quip. Generous with both her audience and the subjects of her stories, her empathy shines through above it all.
Standing in front of us half-clothed and giggling over the idea of drawing “beady eyes” onto Clarence— her strangely named under-boob— she reminds us that the only difference between audience and performer is a microphone and some lights.
Baby Beryl is a somewhat weird show in that way – Tisdell weaves audience participation with anecdotes that sometimes blend seamlessly, and sometimes feel jarring. Watching her try to tease moments of real humour out of a sometimes-reluctant crowd, it’s clear that it would have been easier – and perhaps even more comfortable – to have used the pre-planned material she admits to having scrapped.
The reason for this, as she explains, is that Tisdell’s idea of building her show around “finding Australia’s youngest Beryl” was somewhat thwarted by the fact that the last Beryl born in Australia tragically died three years ago at age 12. By this point everyone in the room has inevitably daydreamed up some version of Beryl —the teenager with a hilariously matronly name— and having her ripped away so suddenly is strange and sobering.
Instead, Tisdell decides she’s going to strip away the artifice, the divisions, and the pre-laid set, and invite her audience on stage with her. As it turns out, Tidsell’s Sunday night show in the Adelaide’s Fringe’s Spare Room had actually attracted one of Australia’s Beryls.
Watching an 85-year-old from Cheshire join smart-talking indigenous woman Steph Tisdell on stage was something of a study in contrasts, but a serendipitous reminder of the show’s whole thesis. You never know who’s in the room with you, so you may as well ask.
Steph Tisdell will be performing Baby Beryl in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney until May. You can find a full list of show dates here.
Image by Liam Fiddick