NEIL Bartlett’s production, which arrives in Stratford after a national tour, is dark and snappy.

Literally snappy, in fact, as one of its more irritating mannerisms is to have actors snap their fingers to punctuate scene and lighting changes.

We are in a mid-20th Century Italy where black dresses, trilbies and braces evoke uncomfortable heat. There’s a charming village band but knife crime is obviously out of control and not just among the hot-headed young, to judge from the readiness with which old Capulet produces his blade.

Bartlett freezes the action to create a clear space for certain lines, like the Capulet hooligans debating how far they can afford to push their Montague counterparts or Romeo’s immediate reaction to seeing Juliet.

David Dawson, an award-winning newcomer in Chichester Festival Theatre’s revival of Nicholas Nickleby, is a floppy-haired, bright-eyed and physically slight Romeo who for some odd reason made me think of the lovelorn Buster Keaton in The General. So you could certainly say he’s sympathetic.

Anneika Rose, on the other hand, is a more than usually physically robust Juliet, who also seems strikingly mature and knowing. They are nevertheless pretty good together.

Two other key performances are interesting departures from the norm. James Clyde’s Friar Laurence is much younger than usual, with nothing of the dodderer about him, while Julie Legrand’s Nurse is sharply-etched and abrasive rather than matronly. And of course Gyuri Rossi relishes the play’s most engaging but frustratingly truncated role, Mercutio.