It is a surreal experience watching Carla Rossi, a drag clown with ferocious energy, shuffle onto stage, mimicking the white ensemble of the 1960 TV movie Peter Pan. Projected above us, they perform a stylised, racist mimicry of First Nations culture. This layering of racist popular culture over and under a performance that turns it on its head – with a tune – is the driving force that is Looking for Tiger Lily. Created and performed by Anthony Hudson, this is an hour of insight into the jarring reality of growing up queer and growing up mixed – of German and First Nations heritage – this is Hudson’s story.
Carla Rossi is an intriguing, powerful figure, taking the stage in white face: this is her manifesto to stand against whiteness, critically referring to the history of black face, instead putting on a mask of white to undermine its supremacy. But she is most certainly not a drag queen; she is undoubtedly a clown, her ruthless cackle echoing throughout the theatre.
Upon performing the opening number, Hudson removes the markings of Carla – this evening a blond perm with two long plaits and feathers akin to the white actress Sondra Lee who plays Tiger Lily – and Carla takes a back seat, becoming a visual element, projected down at us throughout the show. Memes, GIFs, kitschy video editing are similarly thrown across the screen as Hudson tells his story. This visual style works – the fragmented, fleeting moments of humour and absurdism harmonise with Hudson’s storytelling, moving forward through life yet inevitably returning time and again to Tiger Lily and Peter Pan.
Hudson himself is a dynamic performer, outside of the realm of Carla Rossi. Where Carla is bold, Hudson is cautious, and where Carla is vicious, Hudson is charming. Yet while they complement each other with their asymmetrical attitudes, it is clear that Carla could not capture the tender moments of Hudson’s story the way that he can bite back when Carla’s screeches rain down from the screen above. To express these two characters, Carla and Hudson, from one body but of two minds, is a thrill to observe and admire.
Symbology abounds in Looking for Tiger Lily. First, there is Tiger Lily herself, the relic of white colonisation, capturing Hudson’s heart and fascination as a young queer. There is the flag of the American Indian Movement, resisters of the white State that Hudson’s father used to be a part of. There is the blood quantum chart, towering above us on the screen, dictating exactly how Native or not Hudson and his family were, how entitled to their identity they may or may not be.
Then, in one of the most unsettling moments of the piece, there is the US flag that Hudson lays down to sleep on, as the show comes to its close. The ultimate symbol of white hegemony and cultural erasure, it becomes a graphic, dystopic blanket for the little boy, still dreaming of Peter Pan, to lay his head down on.