Stokers, stripped to the waist, shovel furiously to feed the ship’s red-hot furnace as the audience takes its seats in the main playing area where, in Bound East for Cardiff, a young merchant seaman lies dying, well before his time, after falling during a storm.

Then, in In the Zone, a package hidden under a mattress casts wartime suspicion on a member of the crew of the ammunition-carrying S.S. Glencairn.

Finally, we’re back on land for The Long Voyage Home in which a Swedish sailor’s good intentions to remain sober are scuppered by a drugged drink forced on him in a squalid dive. His money, his dreams of buying a farm – and possibly his life too -are all at risk as he’s dragged off to serve an unsolicited stint aboard an infamous vessel.

American Kenneth Hoyt’s production is strong on atmosphere, thanks in no small measure to Van Santvoord’s striking design, and O’Neill’s depiction of the miserable limitations of a seafaring existence – physically exhausting and far from family for years at a time – reveals the roots of inspiration for several of his later plays.

The Old Vic Tunnels, Station Approach Rd, SE1 8SW
0844 871 7628
Tube: Waterloo
Until 18th February
£20 (under 25’s £12)

Review: Louise Kingsley