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In 2000, whilst freelancing as Arts Correspondent for the Essex County Standard newspaper, Colchester based writer/performer Darren Gooding began devising the comedy character of actor, critic and raconteur Manly S. Truelove. “Manly” finally burst onto the East Anglian Arts Scene in July 2001 in a full length one man stage show entitled Manly Truelove’s Theatrical Anecdotes. Initially produced with the Colchester-based Predictable Pig Theatre Company, the show premiered at Colchester Arts Centre after which it enjoyed a successful regional tour, prior to being taken to the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe Festival where it undertook a month’s run at the Gilded Balloon.


Manly’s success in Edinburgh led to further regional theatre bookings and two years of Darren writing a regular, (and increasingly subversive) back page for “East Life” magazine in the literary persona of the devious old soak. Meanwhile Darren continued to participate in the creation of new characters and narratives under the Predictable Pig umbrella; three full length comedy plays followed: this time co-written and performed with regular collaborator Damien Bell - “Mexibralia T.O. Bangralore”, “The Cardboard and String Oresteia” and “O.F.U.”; in which the performers examined themes of displacement, paranoia and conspiracy with their trademark mix of surreal gags, verbal slapstick and ridiculous props. In 2004 the Predictable Pig Theatre Company disbanded and the core writer/performers for a while went separate ways. Darren went solo; re-launching Manly’s stage career under the umbrella of Truelove Tours with the production of a second original stage play entitled Remembering Dame Hermione which toured East Anglia in 2004 and into 2005, by which time Manly Truelove was rapidly becoming a slyly subversive part of the regional arts scene.


After four years rest the character of ‘Manly’ returned in a feature length film comedy, adapted from his successful Edinburgh stage show. Produced and directed by Darren Gooding “As I Remember Thrigby”  was shot in HD over the course of 2008/2009, in a variety of East Anglian locations. The film received its initial Preview Screening  on Saturday March 28th 2009 at Colchester Arts Centre; more screenings followed including a London Premiere at BAFTA on 28th of April 2010. For further information about this eccentric endeavour check out our Electric Pictures page. April 2010 also saw ‘Manly’s’ début as a compere at the Whitby Gothic Weekend, the success of this venture subsequently led to additional offers of compere work both in East Anglia and further afield.


2011 saw additional hosting gigs for Darren, in a variety of guises; but it also marked a creative departure with the launch of a brand new stage show entitled “The Cabinet of Leopold Thorn”: an extraordinary true(ish) story of ambition, loss, scandal and deception set within the obsessive, clandestine and occasionally downright ridiculous world of Victorian Stage Illusion... This was the first ‘straight’ play to be produced by Truelove Tours and the first not to feature the eponymous character of Manly S. Truelove. The premiere of  “Leopold Thorn” in October 2011 engendered enthusiastic and overwhelmingly positive responses and reinvigorated Darren’s love of live theatre. It also was the first live show to feature specially composed music by Darren’s partner; composer and performer Tina Gooding.


2012 brought more compere work and further “magical” developments as Darren began to devise and perform comedy conjuring projects with Magician, Dean Allen Jones, including full length Stage Magic Show: “Inventions of the Impossible” and it’s associated short comedy film “Magic: The Hidden Horror”  This project lead to the two conjurers forming “Nothing Up Our Sleeves” - a loose collective of sumptuously attired Essex-based magicians, with diverse skills and eclectic performance styles.

Meanwhile Darren also co-wrote and produced a four part Internet radio serial with old Predictable Pig collaborator Damien Bell, entitled “The Adventures of Bentley Strangetrousers”. This led to a Bentley Christmas Special and further serials. Produced under the banner of I Hear Voices Theatre Company Darren has written and directed a string of other podcast comedy adventures:  “A Quantum of Sporran” (2013),  “Greatermass” (2014), “A Terrible Case of Sherlock Holmes” (2017), “Space Wizards on the Brink” (2020) and “Poets Day” (2021).


In 2013 Darren was commissioned to write and perform the opening show for Colchester’s first Comedy Festival; the result, “Civic Ceremonial - An Audience with A Mayor of Colchester” was a surreal and subversive excursion into local government which took place in the Mayor’s Parlour in Colchester Town Hall over the course of a single day. Meanwhile, more close-up magic gigs continued to materialize for Nothing Up Our Sleeves, including two large scale events at Colchester Castle plus the offer of Darren and Dean becoming the regular Storyteller and Magician for Tea & Sympathy’s literary-themed bar nights. Darren also restaged and toured “The Cabinet of Leopold Thorn” which received enthusiastic Reviews. The wealth of new gigs resulted in Darren being asked to perform excerpts from “Cabinet” at the Colchester Free Festival in the spoken word tent, which he was subsequently asked to co-direct. Later that year Darren delved further into the world of the eccentric Victorian Magician to begin a brand new cycle of shows entitled  “The Storybook of Leopold Thorn” The first instalment of this quartet of interwoven tales - “The Illusionist, The Princess and the Candlesticks” was tried out at Colchester Arts Centre on the 20th of November 2013.


2014 saw Truelove Tours awarded a grant from Arts Council England to assist in touring “The Princess and the Candlesticks” and producing the second show in the Storybook cycle “The Terror Beneath the Boards”. On the Comedy front the company received their second commission from Colchester Comedy Festival and A Mayor of Colchester returned in a brand new short film - “Civic Ceremonial II - The Telling of the Town Joke


In 2015 the Leopold Thorn Storybook Cycle continued with “Terror Beneath the Boards” going on tour and a new play “The Clockwork Girl” premiering at Colchester Arts Centre. Meanwhile another set of film comedy shorts  “Civic Ceremonial III - The Importance of Being Absent” was commissioned to open the Third Colchester Comedy Festival.


In 2016 A Mayor of Colchester returned for a live show “Civic Ceremonial IV - The Beating of the Bounds”; an unprecedented, unrivalled and largely unwarranted walking tour exploring the comedic history of East Anglia’s most righteous, steadfast and unremittingly ludicrous town; ably assisted by regular Civic Ceremonial collaborators; Dave Hughes as grovelling Town Clerk, Mister Tymperleys and Tim Young as the Grand Jape Master Respondent.


Darren has always been gender fluid and in 2017 he finally began bringing his femme side to the stage and Alice d’Lumiere started taking over some of the writing and producing duties! Alice has written and performed two full length performance art pieces about the gender fluid experience; “Illuminating Alice” (2017) and “Speaking Out and Fitting In!” (2019) and is working on a third solo show for 2022. She also works as a Performance Poet, Cabaret Hostess and occasional Burlesque dancer!


In 2021 Truelove Tours were accepted onto the Mercury Theatre’s “Mercury Creatives” programme.

Manly’s Original Publicity Still - 2001 Wigged & Touring as  Mr. Truelove - 2002 Frocked & Dangerous in “Remembering Dame Hermione” - 2004 COMPANY HISTORY - THE EARLY YEARS: 2000 - 2016 The First Adventure of Leopold Thorn in “Cabinet of Leopold Thorn”  - 2011 Original Manly Truelove Publicity Still - 2001 His Worshipfulness, A Mayor of Colchester In “Civic Ceremonial” - 2013