A performance piece, featuring spoken word and music ranging from Bach to Beethoven to Rachmaninov to Leonard Cohen, exploring themes of morality, culture and humanity, all spliced together against a backdrop of the origins of humanitarian law, might seem destined to collapse under its own weight. Yet in East West Street: A Song of Good and Evil, these elements assume a cohesion that belies its complex subject matter and sprawling format.

Nuremberg Trials, East West StreetNuremberg Trials, 1946. Hans Frank sits in the first row, fourth from right. 

Based on leading human rights lawyer Philippe Sands’ bestselling book East West Street, the piece explores the lives and contradictions of three men central to the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial: Hersch Lauterpacht, an international law scholar; Raphael Lemkin, best known for coining the term ‘genocide’; and Hans Frank, Hitler’s personal lawyer. Interweaving the personal effects and correspondence of these figures with the classical music they found solace in, Sands zeroes in on one thorny problem – how Lauterpacht and Frank could both seek comfort in Bach’s St Matthew Passion despite being on opposing sides in the courtroom.

“In researching East West Street I noticed that the...