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Radio review: The Price of Paradise, Assignment: Italy’s Mafia whistleblower, and A Celebration for Ascension Day

17 May 2024

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The Price of Paradise (Wondery) tells the story of a glamour model who escapes the hustle and bustle by relocating to a Nicaraguan island

The Price of Paradise (Wondery) tells the story of a glamour model who escapes the hustle and bustle by relocating to a Nicaraguan island

“IF THIS were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.” Versions of Fabian’s famous declaration, uttered in the thick of Twelfth Night, are made by many a storyteller, and not always with such bravado. As the tale recounted in The Price of Paradise (Wondery podcasts) approaches its climax, the presenter, Alice Levine, reaches for a similar formulation; but here it sounds like an act of desperation, as the multiple strands that she has attempted to twirl on to her narrative fork threaten to slip away.

Part of the problem is her main character. Jayne Gaskin was a glamour model who signed up for a Channel 4 reality show all about people escaping the hustle and bustle. But, while most participants in No Going Back relocated to some decorously alien territory, such as the Algarve or Tuscany, Ms Gaskin bought an island off the Nicaraguan Mosquito Coast on the internet and dragged her family to it. As a documentary team was recording the whole thing, reality and fiction were already blurred.

Then there is the parallel story of the crooks who sold the island, and the redoubtable Maria Acosta who stood up to them and paid a heavy price. It is, indeed, an extraordinary story, one that Levine manages just about to control; and yet one cannot help feeling that much real life happened behind the scenes.

The Channel 4 documentary ends darkly, as notice is given of the death of Ms Gaskin’s long-suffering husband — not at the hands of drugs barons or villainous property-developers, but as the result of chronic asthma. To quote Shakespeare once more, it reminds one of the death of Falstaff: reported, not seen, far from the high jinks played out on stage.

The same could be said of Assignment: Italy’s Mafia whistleblower (World Service, Tuesday of last week), whose story occupies that same world in which fiction and reality compete for credibility. This is a more straightforward account than the Wondery production, although the events that it covers are a good deal more sensational: a defection from the Calabrian mafia which led to more than 200 convictions. The success of the ’Ndrangheta cartel is attributed to an especially close commitment to family bonds; and the poignant offstage drama here is the refusal of the whistle-blower Emanuele Mancuso’s wife to follow her spouse, even though it was she who was the outsider. Emanuele now lives with their daughter, in perpetual protective anonymity.

The BBC marked 100 years of religious broadcasting by appropriating Thursday of last week’s feast in A Celebration for Ascension Day (Radio 4). Back in 1924, the innovation was criticised as lowering the practice of faith to “a kind of entertainment”. The same complainant would, I fear, have had his misgivings vindicated by this collage of music, reflection, and reminiscence; but it would be churlish not to allow the producers some latitude on this occasion. The greater fear must be that it represents not so much a celebration as a memorial service.

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