One of the most controversial aspects of ENO's new season is the decision to branch out into musicals.
In partnership with Michael Grade and Michael Linnit they plan to develop new productions of "the finest musicals". The idea is to grab back some of the weeks the Coliseum is currently hired out to visiting dance companies and use them to create one new musical production a year. ENO's technical resources and orchestra will be drawn on, as well as their theatre. It is hoped that productions may transfer to the West End, which is where the real goldmine lies. The National Theatre have made millions over the years from transfers like War Horse and The History Boys, and ENO are keen to follow in their footsteps.
Quite apart from justifiable and understandable artistic concerns - in other words, should an opera company be producing musicals? - there are more troubling financial questions to be answered.
ENO take a share of the multi-millions if the West End transfers happen.
But what if there's no transfer? What if there's not enough interest to justify it? Don't be distracted by the success stories - very few National Theatre efforts have ever made it out of the South Bank.
Or what if there is a transfer, but it turns out to be the new Stephen Ward instead of the new Book of Mormon? More musicals close early than go on for years. Fact.
A musical is a high return venture if it works, but it's also high risk. Statistically speaking, the most likely scenario - for any producer - is a flop. Multiply that by the ENO factor (remember Kismet?) and there's an even stronger likelihood of a stinker. And what then happens to the (taxpayer) money ENO has sunk into production costs? Will Michael Grade be digging into his silk-lined pocket to cover the difference? I doubt it. Should the taxpayer be covering this artistically dubious financial speculation?
"The difference between success and failure in musical theatre is a horrifyingly fine line. However, I believe that if you choose a subject purely because it appears commercial, catastrophe looms.
If money was the only goal, would I have embarked on a musical (strangely not mentioned by Mr Walker) that was inspired by an anthology of poems by a dead poet (and not lyrics by Tim Rice), was directed by a commercially untried director from the Royal Shakespeare Company, was presented by a young producer who had had no major West End hit, which featured dance heavily at a time when it was perceived that West End dancers had two left feet and certainly couldn't sing and dance at the same time, was opening in a graveyard theatre in which even Grease, starring Richard Gere, had flopped, was to open with most of its investment missing - causing me to take a second mortgage on my house - and, worse still, featured human beings dressed as cats?
We are all immensely proud of Stephen Ward. But what makes a hit musical? Fools give you reasons, wise men never try."