Classic. Expressionist. Socialist. Eugene O’Neill.  You could add to that depressing list ‘directed by Richard Jones’, the man who sucked all the life out of Annie Get Your Gun across the road at the Young Vic by staging it as seen through a letter box.

O’Neill’s 1922 The Hairy Ape is a staccato series of eight scenes in the short and brutish life of ‘Yank’, the toughest stoker on an ocean liner and a working class Everyman who can’t catch a break whether as the leader of the pack, among polite society or even ‘on the waterfront’ in the arms of the anti-capitalist Industrial Workers of the World. He meets his end in the gorilla cage of the zoo.

Jones’ operatic perspective does the production two favours: cutting it to 90 minutes instead of the four hours it took at the National in 1987 and giving Stewart Laing free rein and a hefty welding budget for brightly lit and saturated-coloured shark-cage sets. Heftily symbolic too, as the central character is hounded from one cage to another throughout, whether steel or of his own making.

It’s hard to follow – the National’s production sounded more intelligible than this one, and that was in German. You simply cannot make out what people are saying because of muffled diction: in the case of Bertie Carvel as ‘Yank’, a man whose vowels seem strangled with his own testosterone, further hampered by a completely abstruse accent. I guessed Johannesburg.

Thank goodness for Aletta Collins’ choreography – pitching the firemen on a rolling sea in their boiler room, strutting and jiving with the New York glitterati in glorious street scenes, alternately blinding and bilious in Mimi Jordan Sherin’s inventively disorienting and frequently chrome yellow lighting scheme.

Steffan Rhodri, as an old-school Irish drunken sailor shows what a capable and versatile character actor he is, and Rosie Sheehy is effective as the spoiled rich girl slumming below decks to the intense disapproval of her ramrod aunt played with a nice touch of venom by Buffy Davis.  And, yes, she is Jolene in The Archers.

It’s not the easiest show you’ll ever see, but as his second production at the helm, makes you think Matthew Warchus’s tenure at the Old Vic could be an exciting and varied ride.