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‘A Vocal Figure Skater’ Makes His Mark as an Operatic Hamlet

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A small role in George Benjamin’s “Written on Skin” (2012) was Clayton’s first experience of getting an element 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 much more intense. First, Dean said, he recorded Clayton delivering several of the character’s soliloquies, “to listen to where his voice sat, and his natural rhythms.” In workshops, Dean could “see and listen to how he used the words and that influenced how the remainder of the piece unfolded.”

By the point he finished writing the second act, he added, “Allan’s ease at singing high without having to belt it out, the pliability 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 within the workshops was useful in each practical and intuitive ways. “He’s a vocal figure skater,” he said, and “has that mobility that permits him to twirl and to land, to go to the extremes, each emotionally and vocally. Mainly, he showed us we didn’t must be afraid of anything.”

Clayton said he read and researched the play, but he felt he needed to be as truthful and private as possible within the part. It felt natural, he added, to explore Hamlet’s darkness and imbue him with a febrile physicality. “I move easily, have at all times liked sport, and it appeared like a natural extension of Hamlet’s character,” he said. “He’s light on his feet each mentally and physically.”

The director of the opera, Neil Armfield, said that Clayton’s freedom as a performer made most of the staging ideas come to life. “He’s a phenomenal physical performer, has the liberty of a ballet dancer with none 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.”

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