The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of Romeo and Juliet, which is out on a brief provincial tour before settling into Stratford’s Courtyard Theatre from November 28, offers a more than usually gloomy take on literature’s classic study of teenage love and loss. Forget sunny Italy: theatregoers hoping for temporary escape from the autumn chill at Milton Keynes Theatre this week instead find a Verona as cold and comfortless as the windy shopping precinct through which they arrive.

The looming dark brick and stonework of Kandis Cook’s set provides a depressing background to the action, with variety for the eye supplied only by Bruno Poet’s sensitive lighting. Almost all is forgiven, however, in the closing scene when the walls move for the first time to create a powerfully atmospheric church setting for the lovers’ suicides.

As ever with this play, the “two hours’ traffic of the stage” promised in the prologue becomes rather more than three. The power of the story and the poetry, however – even in a lacklustre production such as this – never make us wish for less.

Director Neil Bartlett has shifted the action forward to the 1940s, with the feuding Montagues and Capulets as rival gangs in mafiosi style. Since flick-knives are their weapon of choice, the repeated references to ‘swords’ and ‘rapiers’ strike an odd note.

There is a problem in this vein, too, with Anneika Rose’s Juliet. Colour-blind casting is all very well – indeed entirely proper – but is difficult for an audience to be ‘colour-deaf’ too. Since her skin is dark, talk of the “white wonder” of her hand, and other references to comely pallor, seem out of place.

While the mutual passion between Juliet and David Dawson’s Romeo comes nowhere close to the hot urgency seen in the best productions of the play, the love affair at least convinces, making their sad ending as affecting as ever.

With his background in gay theatre one might have expected Mr Bartlett to have explored (as so often) the homoerotic opportunities in Romeo’s dealings with Gyuri Sarossy’s well-spoken Mercutio and that leering pander of a priest Friar Laurence (James Clyde). The temptation is resisted.

The other meddler in the young peoples’ lives, the Nurse, is given a warmly down-to-earth portrayal by Julie Legrand. Other enjoyable performances include those of Christopher Hunter as a dominating Lord Capulet and Daniel Percival as Romeo’s loyal pal Benvolio. Simon Slater’s music adds much to the production, performed by an onstage band featuring brass and accordion.