REVIEW: God of Carnage, The Nuffield Theatre Company, Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, until February 23.

As close you can probably come to the ideal evening in the theatre, God of Carnage is short, sharp and deliciously, devilishly to the point – a beautiful dissection/disintegration of the wafer-thin veneer of self-imposed civilisation which stops us from ripping each other’s throats out.

Matthew Kelly, Tracey Childs, Miranda Foster and James Clyde are four actors at the top of their game in this unbroken 80-minute descent into the savagery and resentment which playwright Yasmina Reza persuasively suggests simmers just below the surface in everything we do.

And to think it all starts so brightly…

One child has called the other a name; the other responds by hitting him, the kind of thing that happens every day.

Smug in their own sense of sophistication, the two sets of parents meet to chat it all through in the way only adults can. There’s cake, coffee, cigars, rum and beautiful books about art.

Before long there is also puke, fury and all the angry frustration of two marriages held together by precious little in the bitterest of battles which sees shifting allegiances barely papering over an abyss of non-communication.

The origins are clearly in those Absurdist dramas, the ones where people pointlessly stack up chairs or turn into rampaging rhinoceroses - except that here these are people aware of their descent but incapable of doing anything about it.

All four actors, inhabiting four variously and differently fractured people, play it all beautifully. The only quibble in Patrick Sandford’s production is the daftness in retaining Reza’s original French allusions, something jettisoned in the big-name US big-screen version and most definitely out of place here.

The brilliance of Reza’s play is that it applies to anyone that pretends to be civilised; Monsieur, madame and references to terribly-French sounding parks are discordant. It’s not just the French behaving badly, but all of us. But that’s just a tiny grouch on an excellent night.

Phil Hewitt