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‘What’s in a name?’

Declan Donnellan
10 April 2020

The name ‘Cheek by Jowl’ was born one night in 1981 in desperation…
Nick was doodling with ideas…
We wanted something that suggested “closeness” and that didn’t sound pretentious…

And he said after a couple of hours “Cheek by Jowl, that’s it!”

It was actually before we had done A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so we didn’t know it was in Shakespeare!!

We only later realise that it’s the young lovers who say this as they go off to fight… it wasn’t a bad omen!

Nick arrived at the name like he arrives at everything.

Silence… then he draws the final set.
Silence… he withdraws, then he says the name ‘Cheek by Jowl’.
It’s like an Oracle. It would be unnerving if you didn’t know him.

So take Measure For Measure for example…
Then, one day he shows me five bright red cubes.
I say “what’s that!?”
He says that’s the set…
I say ok.
Then we sort out how to use it.

Actually, he always knows overall how it will work.
Like how people come on and off, and the angle at which they arrive.
We don’t have a painstaking process of ideas which get discussed and rejected that goes on and on.

He kind of withdraws, imagines, draws… and it is done. No argument, no discussion.

And that is how Nick, 39 years ago, arrived upon the name Cheek by Jowl.