Russell is a native of Southport, Lancashire. After reading English at Wadham College, Oxford, where his tutors included Ian Donaldson and Terry Eagleton, Russell studied for the degrees of MA and PhD at the Shakespeare Institute, the University of Birmingham’s Stratford-based centre for graduate studies in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. He subsequently held posts at the Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama and in the Drama Department of the University College of North Wales, Bangor. From 1978 to 2004 he was a Fellow (and latterly, Director) of the Shakespeare Institute, before joining the Department of Drama and theatre Arts as Allardyce Nicoll chair in 2004.
His work focuses on the relationships between text and performance - particularly but not exclusively of Shakespeare’s plays - in their social and intellectual context and in a wide range of media. He is currently engaged in studies of the representation of the theatre in the other arts.
His research is informed by (and informs) his work in professional theatre and film.