Beatrice Mckechnie gazes languidly past her observers. As pendulous storm clouds gather and exotic birds swoop and circle over her head, her eyes are fixed somewhere distant on the horizon; she is ethereal, powerful and, dare I say, really quite hot. Unfortunately, this is a poster. And this supremely sexy bit of advertising meant that The Fire Within delivered nothing it said on the tin.

Patrick Garety’s new play casts itself, at least in the blurb on its Facebook group, as a fresh look at one of the darkest hours in British history: the colonial subjugation of India. Now, this is a tricky subject. We know the Indian population was treated with disgust, disrespect and terrible injustice. Set in the dying moments of the Raj amidst Indian celebrations of independence, The Fire Within claimed to enter this dark, challenging historical period from a new standpoint, when in fact it merely rehashed old ground.

The plot turns on Mckechnie’s Eve (please note subtle Biblical allusion), the tearaway daughter of the boorish Charles (George Johnston), a wealthy English businessman and his dutiful but dull wife Ruth (Susanne Curry). Accompanied by Eve’s elder brother James (Edwin Ashcroft) and Eve’s nice-but-dim suitor Colin (Tom Clarke), tensions simmer on a sweltering Indian evening, before coming to the surface as the monsoon breaks.

Indeed, the script itself is this production’s Achilles heel. The acting was often engaging; Olivia Crellin’s direction was subtle in tone; Georgia Haseldine’s skilful costume designs nicely complemented David Pugh’s impressive (if a little precariously wobbly) set. And, as if that didn’t suffice, there was even a curry eaten right there on stage – because they do that in India, you know. However, not even these capable hands could lift Garety’s script out of the realms of cliché.

The ever-reliable Oliver Soden dealt most successfully with the dialogue; a strange blend of naturalism and well-worn cliché. His portrayal of the bumbling, philosophical neighbour Lambert engaged thanks to his prodigious ability to give learned lines the cadences and slight hesitance of everyday improvised speech. Scenes between male characters tended to be more successful, but, as banter between Ashcroft and Clarke garnered chuckles, Mckechnie and Curry were challenged to flesh out the faintly drawn women of the play.

Garety misjudges the intelligence and sensitivity of his audience quite substantially; instead of allowing subtle metaphors and allusions to pervade his play, the naturalism of the dialogue is compromised by a perceived necessity to mash symbolism into the audience’s faces. Award for the evening’s most notable offender goes to Eve’s ridiculously lengthy monologue about a beautiful, strong bumblebee that gets trapped in the web of a large, black spider. Answers to this enigma on a postcard, please. Second prize is awarded to a variation on Forrest Gump’s life philosophy, in which Forrest’s ‘box of chocolates’ is changed, rather jarringly, to a bag of marbles. Insert obligatory marble loss quip here.

Without revealing too many plot twists, the main arc of the play was woefully predictable. While moments of The Fire Within did show promise, it is a theatrical truth universally acknowledged that naturalism is only pleasurable to watch when done impeccably. The Fire Within indicates that this should be made the mandatory mantra of every student writer.