‘The Canty Hole’ might sound a bit rude to modern ears but it’s actually the title of a Robert Fergusson poem about Edinburgh. Fergusson describes the city during the holidays when the lawyers and professionals desert the city and ‘Indian Peter’s coffee room’ is empty of punters. Struck by this intriguing sounding 18th century Edinburgh establishment, Mike Maran’s one man show brings the proprietor, Peter Williamson, back to tell his incredible life story.
Peter was born in Aberdeenshire in 1730 but his life took a traumatic turn when he was kidnapped, thrown on a ship and sold as an indentured servant in America. Fortunately for Peter, his master was kind and on his death Peter inherited some money, enough to set up home with his sweetheart Rose. Fate still had plenty in store for him, though and he was captured by Native Americans, once again becoming a slave against his will. After many more ordeals and hardships, Peter eventually made his way back to Scotland where he was able to set up his coffee house.
Just as the original Peter did, Maran presides over his establishment in an Indian headdress, pulling on a Native American pipe. His performance is steady, likeable and he quickly initiates an amiable rapport with the audience; he casts members of the audience as famous Scots like Adam Smith, James Watt and Walter Scott, insisting that they lead discussion groups afterwards on the topics of the economy and steam power. He exhorts the unfortunate James Boswell sitting in front of me to give up the Jacobite cause for the sake of progress. The show is full of funny little quips like this which deftly contrast with the drama of his personal life story.
Maran’s storytelling is accompanied and punctuated by sprightly traditional Scottish fiddle music courtesy of the talented Morag Brown. This, along with the occasional forays into Gaelic, gives an authentic Scottish flavour to this extraordinary tale of an Aberdeenshire man who found himself so far from home.