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Go Skating, Watch Lady Gaga, Boo Panto Villains: London Weekend

Ben Johnson
Painter Ben Johnson works on "Looking Back at Richmond House" in London. Johnson is completing his painting inside London's National Gallery and in full view of the public, during a six-week residency. Source: National Gallery via Bloomberg

Strobe lights, dry ice and an erotic video show take center stage as Lady Gaga returns to London.

Gaga -- who in recent extravaganzas modeled a meat dress, a flame-throwing bra and a Santa skirt -- will tear through hits from “Poker Face” to “Just Dance,” and sample new tunes planned for “Born This Way,” her second album due next year.

Lady Gaga is at the O2, SE10 0DX. Information: +44-20-8463-2000, and


As the temperature drops, ice skating takes over at some of London’s heritage sites.

The 18th-century riverfront Somerset House has iced over its courtyard. You can skate there all day and swerve at night to DJ beats. For a starker setting, head for the rink at the Tower of London -- where Henry VIII beheaded two of his wives.

Information: or +44-844-871-8814 for the Tower of London ice rink. For Somerset House, or +44-20-7845-4600.

Tom’s Terrace at Somerset House is an informal restaurant known for its British fare -- shepherd’s pie, venison casserole. There are also burgers and pasta dishes:,

On a quiet street near the Tower of London is one of London dining’s best-kept secrets: Rosemary Lane, a small restaurant in a former pub. There are special festive menus with dishes such as organic slow-roast English goose breast:

Saturday Night

A man in drag is packing crowds of all ages into the Hackney Empire.

Actor Clive Rowe -- fake bosom bulging from a slew of outrageous dresses -- stars as Dame Daisy in “Jack and the Beanstalk” for the theater’s traditional Christmas pantomime.

Set in Hackneydale, a winter wonderland struggling to make ends meet, the show features a dancing cow and a singing harp. This being panto, there’s plenty of chance to boo and hiss as the bad guys break wind, and crudely poke their noses.

The show ends Jan. 9, 2011, at the Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, E8 1EJ. Information: or +44-20-8985-2424.

For less raucous thrills, try “The Nutcracker.”

There’s skating, sleighing and even a hot-air balloon in this story of a girl who dreams her toy nutcracker is a dancing prince. A swarm of big-eared, long-tailed mice add spooks, and gifted soloists lift the game, with Vadim Muntagirov drawing (exaggerated) comparisons with the late Rudolf Nureyev.

“The Nutcracker,” by the English National Ballet, ends Dec. 30 at the Coliseum, St. Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ES. Information: or +44-871-911-0200.

A short walk from the Coliseum, Rules -- London’s oldest restaurant -- is a great spot for a seasonal celebration. Be forewarned: There’s no turkey on the menu. It’s much too modern for Rules. Information:


Every day except Monday, a painter can be watched inside the National Gallery putting the finishing touches to his work.

Armed with a spray gun, an old hair dryer, and stencils prepared by a cutter, Ben Johnson is completing a meticulous view of Trafalgar Square during his six-week residency at the museum. He is aided by his assistant and wife Sheila Johnson.

Johnson is at the National Gallery through Jan. 23, 2011. Information: or +44-20-7747-2885.

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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