Stage star Michael Ball says audience members are putting performers in danger with their mobile phone use.

The singer, 57, is returning as Edna Turnblad in Hairspray The Musical, in a role he last played before mobiles in theatres and cinemas became such a big issue.

Now “it is absolutely the biggest bugbear”, he told the PA news agency.

“In concerts, I’ve stopped a show and before doing shows I’ve said (to the audience), ‘Can I just give you some advice?

Paul Merton and Michael Ball in Hairspray The Musical
Paul Merton and Michael Ball in character in Hairspray The Musical (Hairspray)

“Doing that (filming a performance) while it’s happening up there, just cuts you off. The whole point of this, is it’s tonight, it’s one-off, it’s live’.

“And the truth of the matter is nobody watches what they film. It’s always rubbish, always looks bad, always sounds bad.”

The stage star said that the distraction caused by phones risked the safety of performers.

“The most bloody, annoying thing is that it shines up into the face of the person who uses it”, the stage veteran said.

“And it can be dangerous. Theatres, stages are dangerous places. You’re distracted by these things going on…”

Paul Merton, who is making his musical debut in Hairspray, said: “You’re putting a barrier between you and what you’re meant to be experiencing and watching.”

But he quipped that producers might welcome the distraction of a mobile phone during his performance at the London Coliseum, to take the spotlight off him.

“I think when I’m dancing they’ll welcome any kind of distraction they can get in the auditorium!

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the producers plant people in the audience with strong searchlights”, he said.

Their comments come after Imelda Staunton, due to play the Queen in The Crown, took aim at cinema and theatre-goers who use mobile phones or eat food that makes a lot of noise.

Ball said it was time to bring back the Sixties-set musical, which tackles racial segregation and discrimination.

“It’s about celebrating those people who were brave enough… to start this journey and dialogue.

“Legally we have integration, social acceptance and diversity… but that doesn’t mean..  everybody is down with it,” he said.

“This reaffirms those values that we should all have”.

– Performances of Hairspray The Musical begin on April 23 at the London Coliseum.