The Royal Shakespeare Company is broadening its repertoire and shortening contracts to attract more big name stars in an attempt to win back audiences.

This year's winter season in Stratford, which begins in October, will feature Sheridan's comedy The School for Scandal and Adrian Mitchell's adaptation of the C.S. Lewis children's classic The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Despite the changes, RSC director Adrian Noble insisted that the schedule retained a strong commitment to Shakespeare with productions such as Richard III, which will star Robert Lindsay, as well Timon of Athens, one of the Bard's least popular plays. All the productions are expected to come to London next year, though not necessarily to the Barbican Centre.

The RSC has also shortened its traditional 18-month contracts, which include a top rate of pay of £700 a week, to attract household names like Lindsay to roles in the repertoire. Although the RSC's heritage includes the training of some of Britain's leading actors - Sir John Gielgud, Dame Judi Dench, Jeremy Irons and Glenda Jackson to name a few - it has not been able to keep such names in recent years. The stars can earn much more in film and television, and the length of the RSC contracts was often prohibitive to other commitments.

Similar experiments with short-term stage contracts - such as with the West End hit comedy Art which has seen half a dozen total cast changes since it opened in October 1996 - have proved popular with top-name actors.

Robert Lindsay is well-known for his film and television work and for his role in the West End musical production of Me and My Girl. Three more big-name stars are expected to be cast in The School for Scandal and a production of C.S. Lewis' The Winter's Tale.

The RSC has been struggling recently with falling audiences - as low as 64% this past winter - and a rising deficit which stands at approximately £1.6 million. Government grants for the company have been frozen for six years.