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“Theater owners have never had it so good,” argues producer Sonia Friedman. “With so many musicals in London doing good business and filling even smaller theaters, play producers are now under immense pressure. The owners know there’s so much work lined up and waiting to come in that the moment a show dips it becomes highly vulnerable.”

As a result, play producers are no longer given the leeway or time to build audiences. There’s little or no room for a sleeper hit. “You have to be a success immediately,” she sighs.

Undeterred by the chilly climate, Friedman’s London slate for spring includes the first major production of Harold Pinter‘s early “The Dumb Waiter” in 40 years and a revival of Marc Camoletti’s farce “Boeing-Boeing.”

The latter, directed by Matthew Warchus and designed by Rob Howell — they clearly have time on their hands before the June 19 West End opening of the “Lord of the Rings” musical — will open Feb. 15 at the Comedy Theater.

Written in 1961, the play centers on an architect played by Roger Allam, simultaneously juggling affairs with three “air-hostesses,” an antique job-title which alone dates the play. His triple-dealing is threatened with exposure when a new plane changes all their schedules. Clearly, this is from an era before the word “sexism” was invented. Friedman, something of a farce specialist after “Noises Off” and “Donkey’s Years” — the latter currently being set up for Broadway transfer — is cheerfully unrepentant.

“It really is very funny and I think we’re at a point now where we can stage plays from an era that was politically incorrect, so long as we’re knowing about it,” she says. “And remember, the women in the play are not being exploited: They’re enjoying themselves tremendously.”

The production also boasts a stroke of inspired casting. The crucial role of the baleful long-suffering maid (played in the 1965 Jerry Lewis screen version by Thelma Ritter) has been seized by the queen of drollery, Frances de la Tour, following Tony-glory in “The History Boys.”

Court serves edgy ‘Catch’

West End revivals may not be good news for those in search of — or indeed writing — new plays, but the 2007 subsidized sector will be busy with world premieres from Nicholas Wright, Frank McGuinness, Tamsin Oglesby and Dennis Kelly at the National, Almeida, Tricycle and Hampstead theaters respectively.

Meantime, the Royal Court is filling the new-writing gap not only with Caryl Churchill‘s “Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?” but with an even more radical solution. “Catch” at its Theater Upstairs is a strangely upsetting play written by not one but five contemporary playwrights.

Outgoing a.d. Ian Rickson handed April de Angelis, Stella Feehily, Tanika Gupta, Chloe Moss and Laura Wade a collaborative play from a group of male writers (including David Hare and Howard Brenton) dating from 1971.

Instead of responding directly to the earlier play, the women fashioned a wholly new piece. The strangest thing about the quietly engrossing result is its unified tone.

An exemplary cast — especially young, beady-eyed Kathryn Drysdale, Tanya Moodie as a self-deluding high-flyer and Alexi Kaye Campbell as a businessman struggling for intimacy — are undeniably papering over structural cracks. Moreover, the central device of a powerful woman laid low by her personal trajectory is seriously indebted to Caryl Churchill‘s “Top Girls.” But for all its faults, this collective, unsettling dystopic vision of a world in which identities can so easily be stolen is genuinely haunting.