Vassa is a super-tough and resolute businesswoman who's also head of a troubled family, and keeping the whole ship afloat is a task she handles without conscience or moral wavering.
As a heroine this makes her a tricky proposition for us to engage with in Emily Juniper's adaptation of Vassa Zheleznova, originally written by Maxim Gorky in 1910, with a later version following in 1935.
The action is translated to the docks of 1990s Liverpool, where striking workers are loathed and undermined as far as possible by Vassa, the self-made boss of a flourishing shipping company.
Sian Polhill-Thomas' steely-eyed performance as Vassa holds the production together, and she dominates the stage as Vassa, chain-smoking in a succession of power suits.
Glimmers of humanity emerge as she softens in sympathy with Joss Wyre's Ludmilla, but it's back to full-on railing against her paedophile husband - another deeply unsympathetic character - played with drunken gusto by Luke Shaw.
Amelia Donkor communicates the passion that drives Rachel's anti-establishment activism, and the resentment that simmers between the two women over the future of Vassa's heir is one of the most interesting parts of the production.
There doesn't seem to be any particular reason to do without an interval, and this is an intense 90 minutes with the action racing along at a pace that makes it tricky to follow at times.
There are some problems with clarity - possibly because some cast members are struggling with their accents - but fuzzy speech doesn't help to communicate the nuances of the plot, and this was a problem in the first half hour.
Vassa Zheleznova has been timed to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Gorky's death. But despite its energy and the commitment of its cast, Rachel Valentine Smith's production hasn't quite found its heart.