NONE of us are getting any younger. I had one of those lurching moments last week when I realised I was going to be fifty years old next year.

For anyone saying you don’t look it, I’m afraid my column photo is a few years old.

Far better minds than mine have been ruminating on the subject of mortality over the years.

Back in 2004, Julian Barnes published The Lemon Table, a collection of short stories whose characters, as the blurb puts it, ‘square up to death and rage against the dying light.’

The collection forms the starting point of a new play under the same name, which opens at Salisbury Playhouse next week.

It stars Ian McDiarmid, an actor who has played everyone from Hamlet to Lear, Enoch Powell to the Emperor in Star Wars, and who I caught up with with earlier in the week.

The play adaptation of The Lemon Table simplifies Barnes’ original collection by focusing on two particular stories.

In Vigilance, the protagonist is an avid music lover with a particular pet hate: people who cough and make noise during concerts.

In The Silence, an elderly Sibelius looks back over his life. With one author-approved change, making the composer the same in both pieces, the stories now neatly connect.

McDiarmid is a huge fan of Barnes’ writing, describing it as ‘complicated, simple and sparse at the same time’.

As an inveterate board-treader, he is also acutely aware of the effect that noisy audiences can have – ‘all actors hate being interrupted’ – though unlike the character in the story he portrays, he has never taken action into own hands.

Some involved in the theatre are more forthright on audience noise.

Harold Pinter once famously described coughing as an act of aggression. Richard Griffiths famously stopped a West End production, I think of The History Boys, when a mobile phone went off.

Ordering the offender to leave the theatre, she left to a standing ovation (for Griffiths, not the caller).

In these Covid times, coughing takes on a different and more dangerous meaning that just irritating those around you.

Back in the summer, the Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny noticed a difference in audience behaviour during the Proms.

The usual coughs and mumbles were much less in evidence.

‘Coughing has become the equivalent of randomly shouting ‘Fire’ in a theatre,’ Trelawny told the Radio Times.

‘Eighteen months of living with Covid seems to have stopped us coughing unnecessarily.’

For McDiarmid, The Lemon Table will be his first time back on stage since the pandemic and as a self-confessed ‘theatre animal’ is excited to be getting back out there.

If you’re going to watch the play, just try not to cough.