For the last four years students of the Essex University Theatre Arts Society, (TAS), have held a playwriting competition at the end of their academic year.

Five new plays are presented and the winner goes through to stage a full production of their play. I have been privileged to be one of the judges for the completion for the last four years, and this year, as always, it was an eclectic mix of new writing.

Room Service, by Arran Wylde-Eccles, was a surreal comedy set in a hotel room, where an illicit love affair in which the participants are dressed as The Little Mermaid and, well, a scuba diver, are interrupted by a bear who has also booked the room. Yes, a grizzly bear, who is also the head of a Mafia gang. Completely bizarre, but very funny.

Teacher’s Pet, by Lauren Ilbury, was a classic pressure cooker play, in which pupils had locked their teacher in a cupboard but she needs her asthma medication. Do they let her die?

Sandbar, by Hal Best, had shades of Samuel Beckett in its theatrical world, set on a beach, raising, for me, questions of environmental disaster and issues of identity.

The competition was so close this year that, for the first time, we named a runner up that we felt deserved to go to full production. This was She Only Hit Me Once, by Matthew Bird and Leon Metcalfe, a tense, powerful piece about domestic violence, with the male partner being the victim. You could feel the tension in the auditorium as the play progressed.

The winner though was the wonderful Moments of Clarity, by Kirsty McMachan, a play about a couple, one of whom has dementia and has to be reminded every day who her wife is, dovetailing very well to flashbacks of their younger selves moving into their home. It was a mature, sensitive piece that wasn’t just a gay love story, it was a universal love story.

Each play had areas to be improved, but each one had magical writing. It filled my heart with joy that students are being nurtured and supported to reach their creative potential.