A small role in George Benjamin’s “Written on Skin” (2012) was Clayton’s first experience of having a part written for him. “To have someone write something for you, do an almost forensic investigation into your vocal ability, was thrilling,” he said.
Working with Dean on “Hamlet” was even more intense. First, Dean said, he recorded Clayton delivering several of the character’s soliloquies, “to hear where his voice sat, and his natural rhythms.” In workshops, Dean could “see and hear how he used the words and that influenced how the rest of the piece unfolded.”
By the time he finished writing the second act, he added, “Allan’s ease at singing high without having to belt it out, the flexibility and ease in his voice, were very much in my head.”
Matthew Jocelyn, whose libretto boldly cuts and reweaves different folio versions of Shakespeare’s text, said hearing Clayton in the workshops was useful in both practical and intuitive ways. “He is a vocal figure skater,” he said, and “has that mobility that allows him to twirl and to land, to go to the extremes, both emotionally and vocally. Basically, he showed us we didn’t need to be afraid of anything.”
Clayton said he read and researched the play, but he felt he had to be as truthful and personal as possible in the part. It felt natural, he added, to explore Hamlet’s darkness and imbue him with a febrile physicality. “I move easily, have always liked sport, and it seemed like a natural extension of Hamlet’s character,” he said. “He is light on his feet both mentally and physically.”
The director of the opera, Neil Armfield, said that Clayton’s freedom as a performer made many of the staging ideas come to life. “He is a beautiful physical performer, has the freedom of a ballet dancer without any self-consciousness,” he said. “That fueled a physical sense of something adolescent about Hamlet, his attachment to grief, his breaking of the social rules, his mischievousness and hyperactive glee.”