Josephine Melville, an actress and filmmaker, known for her roles in the British soap opera “EastEnders” and “Prime Suspect 2,” died backstage Thursday evening after performing in the play “Nine Night.” She was 61.
According to a press release, Melville received “immediate assistance” from Nottingham Playhouse first aid staff, an audience member and paramedics who arrived shortly after that. “She was quickly and expertly treated, but sadly she passed away at the scene,” it read. The press statement revealed no cause of death.
“The entire company and staff at both theatres are in a state of shock,” said the statement of Leeds Playhouse and Nottingham Playhouse, co-producers of the show. “Josephine Josephine was a wonderful and well-loved person, a revered and deeply respected performer, director, producer, archivist and writer, and a tremendous Auntie Maggie in ‘Nine Night.’ We are offering our full support to her family, our onstage and production crew and all staff at this awful time.”
In light of Melville’s passing, all “Nine Nights” performances have been cancelled.
Born in Essex in 1961, Melville appeared in many television series (“American Playhouse”) and films (“Empire State”) throughout her four-decade career. Most notably, she played Tessa Parker in “EastEnders,” the long-running BBC One series about the lives of the working class in London’s East End. In 2021, she directed and produced the short “Assistance,” a thriller about two women grappling with a guilty conscience. Before her death, Melville completed work on the film “Slammer,” a female-led science fiction thriller.
Melville’s stage credits include 1988’s “O, Babylon!” at London Fringe and 2018’s “Sleeping Beauty” at Theatre Royal Stratford East, where she played the villainous Mauritius Le Vicious. Time Out singled out Melville’s performance in its review, stating that the actress “steals the show.” “Sinister yet charismatic, with a magnificent, resonant voice and effortless timing, she is truly a villain you love to hate,” wrote Tania Ballantine.
Josephine Melville was named to the ensemble cast of “Nine Nights” in August. Described as “a heartfelt comedy that celebrates the rituals of a traditional Jamaican Nine Night wake,” the regional production opened in Leeds at the end of September before transferring to Nottingham in October. The last performance was scheduled to take place on Nov. 5.