Mike Wozniak: Zusa at Soho Theatre review: deliciously distinctive fun

 (Kirsten Mcternan)
(Kirsten Mcternan)

On the way to Mike Wozniak’s show at Soho Theatre last night I passed the nearby comedy club 21Soho and through the window spotted Michael McIntyre doing an impromptu intimate set. You could not get two more different comedians. McIntyre goes straight for the punchline, Wozniak takes the scenic route. Fortunately the wait is usually worth it.

Wozniak‘s new show is not so much stand-up as storytelling. Zusa tells the elaborate tale of his great-aunt’s journey from a pre-WWII Polish village to post-war Luton. It is an epic chronicle that includes, among other things, a guinea pig post-mortem, a trip into town to buy a button and a discussion about the best way to get from Exeter to Weymouth. And that’s before the interval.

The former doctor acquired new fans with his eccentric antics on Channel 4’s Taskmaster, even sporting a mohawk in a last ditch stab at victory. Maybe the mohawk was as fake or as factual as this yarn. Onstage he simply tells his story straight-faced, pausing occasionally to run his fingers through his now decidedly normal hair.

This might be the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories you will ever hear. Or perhaps it is largely true with just the names changed to avoid tax implications. Wozniak does tease us with the possibility of the latter, leaving the audience to make up their own minds.

 (Kirsten Mcternan)
(Kirsten Mcternan)

There is certainly lots going on. At times it feels as if there are more tangents than story as we hear about Kylie Minogue, crime podcasts and a short relative with a large bladder. Some tonal shifts are a little unexpected. A digression about the German Ambassador in Denmark helping Jews escape to Sweden – definitely true – is fascinating if not really in tune with the saga.

But whenever things start meandering a line of inspired brilliance frequently gets us back on track. When Zusa wants to join her air force husband Zbigniew on a raid she is told there is no room because the bombs take up all the space: “You can’t drop a wife on Stuttgart”.

With a running time of 90 minutes the show could be zippier. But at its best Zusa resembles an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? crossed with Spike Milligan’s military memoirs. Wozniak shares the late Goon’s love of the absurd and fondness for a surreal image. At one point we hear about how his determined ancestor hid on a fishing boat disguised as a mollusc.

It would not be a surprise to discover that Zusa is entirely factual. Then again, Wozniak has such a vibrant imagination it could also all be entirely false. Either way it is deliciously distinctive fun.

Soho Theatre, to Saturday; sohotheatre.com