Two eleven-year-old boys squabble in a park and Ferdinand bashes Bruno in the face with a stick, knocking out two of his teeth.

Determined to be civilised, their parents meet to talk things over – but the polite veneer doesn’t last long.

This is God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza at the Theatre Royal in Bath, with a four-strong cast and a one-act play that takes place in real time, within the confines of a bourgeois living room.

Starring Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey), Amanda Abbington (Sherlock), Ralf Little (The Royle Family) and Nigel Lindsay (Victoria), it’s fair to say expectations were high.

McGovern plays Veronica, a writer who loves art and is researching a book about conflict in Darfur. She is married to Michael (Lindsay), a seller of home hardware, who evidently struggles to live up to his wife’s cultivated aspirations.

Abbington plays the suited Annette, who declares she works in wealth management, while her husband Alan (Little) is a lawyer defending a pharmaceutical company and whose mobile phone calls are a constant irritant.

It is evident from the outset that conflict is seething just beneath the surface. From the opening suggestion that the boy was not ‘armed’ with a stick, but ‘furnished’ with it, the play demonstrates that no amount of money, law or class distinction can temper the selfishness and violence bubbling inside the soul of each of the four characters – particularly when it comes to defending their children. Hospitality turns to aggression. Politeness becomes violence.

The argument moves like a tide, parents against parents, husbands against wives, men against women as they cannot escape what Alan names as the God of Carnage.

If this sounds grim, what is remarkable about the deft characterisation and sharply written dialogue is just how funny it is. The topic might be dark, but the excellent acting and superb delivery make this an astonishingly engaging production. It’s hard to like any of the characters, but in the end we’re drawn into the gladiatorial ring as we laugh and even cheer as each verbal strike lands on its victim. Evidently, we are disciples of the god of carnage too.

It is a terrific performance, and a great pleasure to see four such accomplished actors investing in their roles so passionately. God of Carnage is only at the Theatre Royal till September 15 – so don’t miss a chance to see it.

Tickets are £15-£38.50 with concessions available. To book, call 01225 448844 or visit